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NAVAL POSTGRADUATE SCHOOL
MUSLIM-CROAT RELATIONS IN BOSNIA-
Daniel J. Moran
Paul N. Stockton
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MUSLIM-CROAT RELATIONS IN BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA, 1987-1997
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Naval Postgraduate School
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13. ABSTRACT (maximum 200 words)
The purpose of this thesis is to identify and explain the causes of instability in Muslim-Croat relations in the period
between 1990-1997. These two nations are supposed to be the main pillars of the new Bosnian state born in Dayton, Ohio
on November 21, 1995. So far, the Serbs have eschewed all efforts of the International Community in the direction of the
stronger integration of a Bosnian state, and there are no signs of possible improvement in the future. If the project of a
Muslim-Croat Federation fails, the whole state is at stake. Muslim leadership, along with many historians and political
analysts hold the Croats responsible for the deterioration of Muslim-Croat relations, but a number of important
developments do not fit this assumption. The author will argue that although the Muslims and the Croats did not create their
alliance in the Bosnian war in good faith, the main cause of deterioration of Muslim-Croat relations is the wavering policy of
the international community toward the Yugoslav crisis.
14. SUBJECT TERMS
Muslim-Croat Relations, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia, Yugoslavia,
War, Bosniacs, Muslims, Croats, Serbs, diplomacy, ethnic conflicts, ethnic relations
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16. PRICE CODE
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19. SECURITY CLASSIFI- CATION OF
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Approved for public release; distribution is unlimited
MUSLIM-CROAT RELATIONS IN BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA, 1987-1997
Captain, Croatian Army
B.S., University of Zagreb, Croatia, 1990
Submitted in partial fulfillment of the
requirements for the degree of
MASTER OF ARTS IN NATIONAL SECURITY AFFAIRS
NAVAL POSTGRADUATE SCHOOL
DUDLEY KNOX LIBRARY
ABSTRACT ^WSrSSSSSS" 001
The purpose of this thesis is to identify and explain the causes of
instability in Muslim-Croat relations in the period between 1990-1997. These two
nations are supposed to be the main pillars of the new Bosnian state born in
Dayton, Ohio on November 21, 1995. So far, the Serbs have eschewed all
efforts of the International Community in the direction of the stronger integration
of a Bosnian state, and there are no signs of possible improvement in the future.
If the project of a Muslim-Croat Federation fails, the whole state is at stake.
Muslim leadership, along with many historians and political analysts hold the
Croats responsible for the deterioration of Muslim-Croat relations, but a number
of important developments do not fit this assumption.
The author will argue that although the Muslims and the Croats did not
create their alliance in the Bosnian war in good faith, the main cause of
deterioration of Muslim-Croat relations is the wavering policy of the international
community toward the Yugoslav crisis.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
I. INTRODUCTION 1
II. A HISTORICAL BACKGROUND 13
A. SITUATION IN THE OTTOMAN EMPIRE 13
B. BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA IN AUSTRIA-HUNGARY 16
C. MUSLIMS, CROATS AND SERBS IN A KINGDOM OF YUGOSLAVIA 17
D. WORLD WAR II 22
E. YUGOSLAVIA IN TITO'S TIME 25
III. THE DESTRUCTION OF YUGOSLAVIA 31
A. THE KOSOVO ISSUE - SERBIAN NATIONAL REVIVAL 31
B. THE CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS 33
C. DEMOCRACY 37
D. THE WARS IN SLOVENIA AND CROATIA 42
E. BOSNIA BEFORE THE WAR 48
F. THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY 53
IV. MUSLIM-CROAT ALLIANCE 1992-1 993 61
A. CARRINGTON-CUTILEIRO PLAN AND INTERNATIONAL RECOGNITION 61
B. THE WAR 65
C. THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY 68
D. ALLIANCE THAT NEVER WAS 71
V. MUSLIM-CROAT WAR 1993-1 994 77
A. VANCE-OWEN PEACE PLAN 77
B. CONTAINMENT 86
C. A UNION OF THREE REPUBLICS 90
D. THE EU ACTION PLAN 96
VI. "A MARRIAGE OF CONVENIENCE" 1994-1997 103
A. A FREE WILL FEDERATION OR "A SHOTGUN WEDDING?" 103
B. THE CONTACT GROUP AND ITS PEACE PLAN 108
C. LIBERATION 112
D. DAYTON AGREEMENT 117
E. IMPLEMENTATION 123
VII. CONCLUSION 129
INITIAL DISTRIBUTION LIST 139
Since the end of the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the implementation of
the Dayton Agreement, representatives of the International Community have
been facing the problem of poor Muslim-Croat relations. These two nations are
supposed to be the main pillars of the new Bosnian state born in Dayton, Ohio on
November 21, 1995. They showed the political will to overcome disagreements
and create a common territorial entity - the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina -
which was the core of the present state Bosnia-Herzegovina established in
So far, the Serbs have eschewed all efforts of the International Community
in the direction of the stronger integration of a Bosnian state, and there are no
signs of possible improvement in the future. So, if the project of a Muslim-Croat
Federation fails, the whole state is at stake.
This thesis examines different stages of Muslim-Croat relations, from the
culmination of the political crisis in the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, to
the beginning of implementation of the Dayton agreement in 1996. These
relations were always dynamic and they had been changing in accordance with
wider political circumstances but they never erupted into open military conflict
Muslim leadership, and many political analysts, hold the leadership of
Croatia responsible for the deterioration of Muslim-Croat relations. They explain
events by pointing to an assumed Serb-Croat carve-up of Bosnia to achieve a
Greater Croatia and a Greater Serbia. Serbs and Croats are supposed to have
plotted against Muslims, and agreed to divide Bosnia and Herzegovina so that
the result of the war was known even before the war started. But, a number of
important developments do not fit this assumption, such as:
• There was a war between the Serbs and Croats in which about 20,000
people died, more than 200,000 were wounded and more than 300,000 were
displaced on both sides.
• The Republic of Croatia was the very first country that recognized
Bosnia and Herzegovina as an independent state.
• The Republic of Croatia hosted more than 350,000 Bosnian Muslim
refugees who, according to the alleged Serb-Croat agreement, were supposed to
• The Republic of Croatia and Bosnian Croats actively supported the
establishment of a Muslim-dominated Army of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and supplied
weapons in spite of the international arms embargo.
• Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina signed a formal military alliance in
1992 and reconfirmed it in 1995.
• The heaviest fighting broke out first in Central Bosnia, where Bosnian
Croat enclaves were encircled by Muslim dominated areas.
• Croats alone liberated the city of Mostar from Serbs, and later helped in
establishing Muslim dominated Army units of Bosnia-Herzegovina in that city.
• During the Muslim-Croat war, Bosnian Croats did not conquer any part
of the predominately Muslim ethnic territory. Quite the contrary, they lost the
predominately Croat city of Vares.
This thesis examined the terrible consequences for Muslim-Croat relations
of a wavering policy on the part of the International Community toward the
Yugoslav crisis. Even a superficial look at the involvement of the International
Community in the Yugoslav (Bosnian) crisis will reveal its imprudent
The sides in the Yugoslav crisis sometimes received the same messages
from the European Union and the United States, but mostly the messages were
completely different. Such chaotic diplomacy prolonged the war and affected
Muslim-Croat relations in the worst possible way. The big share of responsibility
for the Muslim-Croat war lays on the international community and its inconsistent
The introduction of Containment policy was one of the lowest points of the
international diplomacy during the Yugoslav crisis. It showed that the policy of
the international community toward the Yugoslav crisis was only a set of half-
hearted and inconsistent decisions.
I would like to acknowledge the invaluable assistance from my thesis
advisor Professor Dan Moran for his timely suggestions and many corrections he
had to make. Thanks also to Professor Paul Stockton who is my second reader.
I owe much gratitude to my aunt Marcella Pesorda who corrected all my
grammar mistakes and made this thesis to satisfy academic standards.
Special thanks to my parents Ivan and Andja who devoted their lives to
education of their children and encouraged us to never stop.
Last but not least, thanks to my wife Blazenka, and our boys Ivan and Filip
who gave me inspiration and strength to finish this thesis in spite the all obstacles
I faced in the last five months.
Since the end of the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the implementation
of the Dayton Agreement, representatives of the international community have
been facing the problem of poor Muslim-Croat relations. These two nations are
supposed to be the main pillars of the new Bosnian state born at Wright-
Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio on November 21, 1995. It can also be
said that the independence of Bosnia-Herzegovina is primarily the result of a
common decision of Muslims and Bosnian Croats during the referendum on
independence in February/March 1992, followed by common resistance against
Serbian aggression during the early stage of the war that ensued. These two
nations showed the political will to overcome disagreements and create a
common territorial entity - the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina - which was the
core of the present state Bosnia-Herzegovina established in Dayton.
In the long run, the strongest threat to the existence of the independent
state of Bosnia-Herzegovina is not Serbian separatism, but political and military
conflict between Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats.
Presently, the independent state of Bosnia-Herzegovina can effectively
exist as long as at least two of its three major nations want to live together within
internationally recognized state borders. So far, the Serbs have eschewed all
efforts of the international community in the direction of the stronger integration
of a Bosnian state, and there are no signs of possible improvement in the future.
That is why good Muslim-Croat relations are the key to the existence of an
integral Bosnian state. If the project of a Muslim-Croat Federation fails, the
whole state is at stake.
This thesis will examine different stages of Muslim-Croat relations, from
the culmination of the political crisis in the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s,
to the beginning of implementation of the Dayton agreement in 1996. This was
the most turbulent period in the history of the relations between these two
peoples since the emergence of modern nationalities in the 19th century. These
relations were always dynamic and they had been changing in accordance with
wider political circumstances but they never erupted into open military conflict
From the middle of the 19th century until independence, the Bosnian
people lived in five different states, which to some extent corresponded to five
different but also relatively stable stages of Muslim-Croat relations: The Ottoman
Empire (1463-1876), the Austro-Hungarian (1878-1918), the Kingdom of
Yugoslavia (1918-1941), the Independent State of Croatia (1941-1945), and the
Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1945-1992). Interestingly, after
independence, the quality of Muslim-Croat relations changed several times
within a couple of years - from delighted cooperation in 1991 , to open warfare in
1993 - and then to the "marriage of convenience" in 1994, which continues to the
The main tasks of this thesis it to identify and explain the causes of
instability in Muslim-Croat relations in recent years, especially as compared with
the previous era of stability. The first step is to determine what internal and
external factors had a major impact on Muslim-Croat relations. Secondly, it is
necessary to determine the attitude of Muslims and Croats toward other major
players in the Bosnian crisis, a factor that was often ignored. Third, the relations
between Muslims and Croats must be reviewed in the broader context of the
Yugoslav crisis because the major players were almost the same on both the
Yugoslav and Bosnian levels of crisis.
These major players were: the free elected leadership in Serbia, the free
elected leadership in Croatia, the leadership of the former Yugoslav Army, the
free elected leadership of Bosnian Muslims, the free elected leadership of
Bosnian Serbs, the free elected leadership of Bosnian Croats, and last but not
least, the international community. These elected leaderships (especially in
Croatia and Serbia) set the tone for the overall relations among their nations in
the former Yugoslavia. In Bosnia itself, the intercourse among nations depended
a lot on local national leaders. The national leaders who shared power within
central Bosnia had influence, but not overall control over the local national
leaders in cities and villages throughout Bosnia. This fact has usually been
neglected in many analyses, but it is very important for understanding the
strange and sometimes "impossible" alliances that occurred during the war on
the local level.
The Serbian leadership and the leadership of the former Yugoslav Army
were already deeply involved in the Yugoslav constitutional crisis before the first
free election in 1990 and their position did not change after the elections. The
Serbian leadership orchestrated the Yugoslav crisis on the top level and in the
field even before other major players in the Yugoslav and Bosnian crisis
appeared on the political scene. The former Yugoslav Army was just the
instrument for the realization of Serbian strategy. There are numerous proven
instances of how the former Yugoslav Army and the Serbian political leadership
acted in conjunction toward the same goals. Therefore, they enjoyed a
significant advantage before the leaders of other Yugoslav republics reacted to
the crisis a couple of years later.
The importance of the Muslims' attitude toward the conflict between Serbs
and Croats in the former Yugoslav state was usually ignored, but among other
factors, it had a significant impact on the Muslim-Croat relations in Bosnia. The
Croats resented Muslims doing many (for them) unacceptable things on an
international and local level such as the application of Bosnia for membership
into the Organization of Islamic Conference, the application of the country for
membership in the Organization of non-Allied Countries, the Muslim dominated
government pledging within the international community for non-recognition of
the Republic of Croatia as an independent state, then, flirting with the Yugoslav
Army, then, their ignorant position toward the war the Yugoslav Army waged in
Croatia and against some Bosnian Croatian villages during that war, and so
forth. Many former Yugoslav Army officers of Muslim origin took part in the war
in Croatia and later held high appointments in the Bosnian Army.
These factors were usually ignored, but created serious doubts among
Croats (in Croatia and in Bosnia) about possible cooperation with Muslims. The
ambiguous position of the Muslim leadership toward a thriving Serbian
nationalism even confused part of the Muslim electoral body who, therefore,
voted in some cities for Bosnian Croatian national parties.
Muslim leadership and many historians and political analysts hold the
leadership of Croatia responsible for the deterioration of Muslim-Croat relations.
They explain events by pointing to an assumed Serb-Croat carve-up of Bosnia to
achieve a Greater Croatia and a Greater Serbia. Serbs and Croats are
supposed to have plotted against Muslims, and agreed to divide Bosnia and
Herzegovina so that the result of the war was known even before the war started.
A number of important developments do not fit this assumption, such as:
• Immediately after the alleged Serb-Croat agreement, a war broke out
between them, in which about 20,000 people died, more than 200,000 were
wounded and more than 300,000 were displaced on both sides.
• The Republic of Croatia was the very first country that recognized
Bosnia and Herzegovina as an independent state.
• When war broke out in Bosnia, the Republic of Croatia hosted more
than 350,000 Bosnian Muslim refugees who, according to the alleged Serb-Croat
agreement, were supposed to be enemies. Quite the contrary, Bosnian Croats
and Bosnian Muslims fought Bosnian Serbs together throughout the whole of
Bosnia until 1993, and in some areas that alliance continued even after the
Muslim-Croat war in Central Bosnia broke out.
• The Republic of Croatia and Bosnian Croats actively supported the
establishment of a Muslim dominated Army of Bosnia-Herzegovina with weapons
supplies, in spite of the international arms embargo. Weapons supplies
continued in some areas, even during the Muslim-Croat war. There was no case
in history of warfare in which a war party delivered weapons to the side that was
supposed to be its enemy. It is very hard to believe that this was such case.
• Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina signed a formal military alliance in
which the Croatian Army was allowed to enter Bosnia and support Bosnian Croat
and Muslim Armies in border areas.
• If the Muslim-Croat war started because Croatia wanted to grab
Bosnian territory, why did fighting break out first in Central Bosnia, where
Bosnian Croat enclaves were encircled by Muslim dominated areas and where
Bosnian Croats were in a much weaker position than in border areas of the
Republic of Croatia?
• If the Muslim-Croat war was a result of a Serb-Croat plot, why didn't the
Croats hit suddenly and try to overtake the whole city of Mostar first, (which was
the only metropolis where Croats were a majority of the population until the
1980s)? In fact, Croats alone 1 liberated the city from Serbs, and later helped in
establishing Muslim dominated Army units of Bosnia-Herzegovina in that city.
• During the Muslim-Croat war, Bosnian Croats did not conquer any part
of the predominately Muslim ethnic territory. Quite the contrary, they had trouble
defending their own ethnic territory and they lost the predominately Croat city of
Those who accept the theory of a Serb-Croat conspiracy usually speak of
30,000 or more soldiers from the Croatian Army (from Croatia proper) who
supported the Bosnian Croat Army, the Croatian Defense Council (or in the
Croatian language, Hrvatsko Vijece Obrane - HVO). If so, why did the Croats
have so much trouble during the Muslim-Croat war? During 1993, the Croatian
Army successfully carried out two limited actions against the Serbs, who were
much better equipped and organized than the Muslims. An additional force of
30,000 would have almost doubled the strength of the Bosnian Croats and would
have significantly changed the balance of power between the Croats and
These facts do not fit the theory of a Serb-Croat plot against Muslims, and
they suggest a different reason for the deterioration of Muslim-Croat relations.
This thesis will examine the terrible consequences for Muslim-Croat
relations of a wavering policy on the part of the international community toward
1 Disproportions! Croatian contributions to the defense of Bosnia in the early stages of war
caused a lot of tension on local levels, leading to the accusation that the Croats waged a war and
the Muslim only took care of the politics.
the Yugoslav crisis. Even a superficial look at the involvement of the
international community in the Yugoslav (Bosnian) crisis will reveal its imprudent
The European Union changed its policy toward the crisis in the former
Yugoslavia several times. In 1991, the European Community tried for the first
time to practice their Common Foreign and Security Policy and appointed a
special mediator for the Yugoslav crisis. He tried to find a comprehensive
solution for the whole of Yugoslavia, and later for Bosnia, but he failed. The
starting position was not to recognize territorial conquest, but after Serbian
refusal of this position the Europeans were ready to change their policy in the
autumn of 1991.
The German-imposed recognition of Croatia in January 1992 marked a
change in the EU policy, which meant that the EU again was not ready to accept
Serbian territorial conquest. In 1992, a standing peace conference for the former
Yugoslavia, co-chaired by special mediators from the EU and the UN, was
established in Geneva, Switzerland. The Co-Chairmen, who were chief
negotiators at the same time, tried to create the peace plan solution which would
prevent ethnic partition of Bosnia and annul Serbian territorial conquest. But,
major power players involved in the crisis refused to support that plan and it
Later, the Europeans changed their policy again and took a more realistic
approach toward the Bosnian crisis. The results of that new policy were two
peace plans which assumed ethnic partition and recognized some Serbian
territorial conquests, but again failed, largely owing to Serbian resistance.
In 1994, thereafter, the major Europeans powers abandoned the common
European approach and joined Americans and Russians in a newly formed
Contact Group. The Contact Group proposed a new plan, but even that plan
The policy of the United States toward the Yugoslav crisis was
inconsistent, as well. At the beginning of the Yugoslav crisis, the Bush
administration had no wish to be involved in this crisis and ceded the problem to
the Europeans. The United States' policy generally supported political steps
undertaken by the European Union and the United Nations, but carefully avoided
getting involved in any practical way.
When the Clinton administration came to power, the situation turned
upside-down. President Clinton did not want to act unilaterally to fulfill the policy
announced in the election process - "lift and strike" - but he publicly promised to
support the implementation of any peace plan that would be accepted by all
warring sides. He also appointed a special envoy for the Yugoslav peace
process, who joined the Europeans. The Clinton administration also demanded
a much tougher course toward the Serbs, but refused to be engaged in the
peace making process. It made no effort to persuade Bosnian Serbs and
Muslims to accept, what was probably the best peace plan obtainable - the
Vance-Owen Plan of 1993. When the situation on the field deteriorated
thereafter, the Clinton administration responded with new a "containment" policy.
The Clinton administration made things even more complicated. It
supported the Muslim leadership in refusing any plan rewarding Serbian
aggression. But, at the same time, it did not want to support the Muslim-Croat
alliance with concrete means (lifting the arms embargo and air-strikes), because
it would mean confrontation with its NATO allies, who were ready to accept the
Serbian territorial conquest.
When President Clinton appointed a special mediator for former
Yugoslavia, the Russians responded in the same way. Russian and American
special envoys partially acted as observers in the peace process led by EU/UN
mediators, but sometimes worked on parallel tracks. One of the results of
American work on a parallel track was the so-called Muslim-Croat Federation,
which stopped the Muslim-Croat war but definitely confirmed partition of the
Finally in 1995, the United States took advantage of changed
circumstances in the battle field and, with "stick and carrot" policy toward all
sides, found the solution that was accepted as the minimum of basic
requirements of all warring sides.
This thesis will show how the relations between Muslims and Croats
changed with every shift in the policy of the international community and how the
inability of the international community to prevent and punish Serbian aggression
resulted in these terrible consequences. This definitely convinced Bosnian
Muslims and Croats that an independent Bosnia was stillborn and they started
fighting for territory.
After the war, the Muslim-Croat relations came to a new stage. Both
sides agreed to build a common political entity, the Federation of Bosnia-
Herzegovina, but their supposed cooperation bore a heavy burden from the
previous war. On the other hand, both sides interpreted this agreement
according to their pre-war political attitudes, which required frequent American
arbitration. Many prewar problems between Muslim and Bosnian Croats
remained unsolved. The political positions of the main Muslim and Croatian
political parties did not change a lot. The Croats are seeking more autonomy
from Sarajevo, while Muslims want a more centralized organization. Unlike
politicians, Muslim and Croat soldiers achieved significant results in building the
joint armed forces, which now gives some hope for the future. In spite of all
these problems, full implementation of the Washington and Dayton Agreement
remains the only possible framework for Muslim-Croat cooperation and the
building of the state of Bosnia.
II. A HISTORICAL BACKGROUND
A. SITUATION IN THE OTTOMAN EMPIRE
It is very hard to speak about Muslim-Croat relations before the19 ,h
century in terms of relationships between modern nations. Although, all Bosnian
medieval kings and the majority of the population were of Croatian descent 2 and
Roman Catholic religion in the medieval period, it is possible to speak with some
certainty only about relations between religions that existed during that time in
Bosnia-Herzegovina. Muslims in Bosnia were not able to establish a separate
national identity before the Austrian occupation in 1878, which broke their
connections with Istanbul.
The Ottoman Empire conquered Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1463 rather
quickly. The Hungarian-Croatian kings fought for control over Western Bosnia
during the next fifty years, until the battle in Mohacs fields in 1527, when the last
Hungarian king, King Bela was killed. Finally, the Ottoman Empire took control
over Bosnia, much of Croatia and a significant part of Hungary. The horrors of
war forced the indigenous population to emigrate and new authorities invited
different Slavic and non-Slavic tribes (Serbs, Vlachs, or Moralchs) from other
parts of the Ottoman Empire to populate these empty regions.
2 "We can say that the majority of the Bosnian territory was occupied by Croats - or at least, by
Slavs under Croat rule -in the seventh century; but that is tribal level which has little or no meaning
five centuries later." Noel Malcolm, Bosnia, A Shot History (New York: New York University
Press, 1994), p.12.
The Ottoman Turks were generally more tolerant toward the Orthodox
Christians, whose religion was one of the official religions in the Empire, than to
Roman Catholics who were identified with the Austrians - the main Turkish
enemy. Early - modern Bosnian History was accordingly marked with major wars
against Austria fought every two to three decades. After Eugene of Savoy
burned Sarajevo to the ground in 1697, the majority of Bosnian Catholics fled
before the Ottoman Turks retaliated. Those who remained were exposed to
terrible retaliation and many of them converted to Islam in order to evade the
terror. Also, in the areas where Catholics were intermixed with Orthodox
Christians, the Roman Catholic population was exposed to double taxation - from
the Ottoman rulers and from the Orthodox Church, what definitely sped up their
converting to the other two religions. Only the extreme sacrifice of Bosnian
Franciscans prevented the total assimilation of the Catholic population. In the
latter part of the 17 th or maybe the early 18 th century, the Orthodox population
probably became the majority in Bosnia.
In the early 1830s, there was a strong Pan-Slavic movement throughout
Europe, which later evolved into national movements among the different Slavic
nations. This national movement among the Croats started as the "lllyric
Movement," which imagined all South Slavs to be descendants of an ancient
Illyrian 3 people. The followers of this movement called for the unification of the
old South Slavs into one big South Slavic state.
The Muslim nobility did not like these ideas about unification of South
Slavs, because Muslims would have been the minority in any such state. Above
all, the nobility was afraid of losing the benefits they enjoyed in the Ottoman
Empire. The revolutionary and national movements in other parts of Europe did
not affect the Muslim population of the lower classes. After all, there were much
more serious events in Bosnia and neighboring Serbia - insurgencies and rising
The Serbian national movement appeared in Serbia and partially in
Bosnia and Croatia (wherever the Serbian population lived) in the early 19 1h
century. In contrast to the lllyric movement, the Serbian movement considered
all South Slavs to be Serbs, with different religions. The ultimate goal of this
movement was to unify "all Serbs," regardless of religion, in one Serbian
Kingdom. Serbian nationalism found support in Russia and, in the first half of
the 19 th century, circumstances began to move toward open hostility between
Muslims and Orthodox people. Relations between Muslims and Catholics were
distant but without open hostility.
3 Actually Albanians are direct descendants of old lllyrians.
B. BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA IN AUSTRIA-HUNGARY
Austrian occupation of Bosnia was part of the deal made at the Berlin
Congress (1878), by which the big powers tried to avoid the creation of one big
Balkan Slavic state influenced by Russia. Bulgaria, Serbia, and Monte Negro got
full independence. Although Austria-Hungary occupied Bosnia-Herzegovina with
Turkish consent, part of the Muslim nobility in Bosnia refused this take-over and
tried to prevent it through an armed struggle. These struggles and the
uncertainty of the future were the main reasons why a significant part of the
Muslim population (Muslim Slavs and Turks) emigrated to other parts of the
Ottoman Empire. Struggle stopped as soon as it became clear that the new
authorities would not change the old social structure of Bosnian society, and the
Muslim nobility would keep almost all the benefits they enjoyed in the Ottoman
Empire. Muslims officially accepted the Austrian annexation of Bosnia in 1910,
when the first Bosnian Parliament was created. The first Bosnian Muslim
political party was created in 1906. Bosnian Croatian and Bosnian Serbian
parties were created two years later, but their representatives sat in Budapest
The national structure of Bosnia changed in the first years after the
occupation in 1878. For the first time in a couple of hundred years, the numbers
of Croats (Catholics) increased, while numbers of Muslims was significantly
decreased. The Orthodox population decreased slightly, but after the emigration
of the Muslims, the Serbs (Orthodox) definitely became a majority of the Bosnian
population. Austrian occupation induced the formation of a Bosnian Muslim
nationality. The problem with national identification of Bosnian Muslims was that
they did not have an independent state in history (like Serbs and Croats) with
which they could identify. Medieval Bosnia was a Christian state, and Bosnia in
which they lived was just a province of another sovereign state. The broken
connection with Turkey and the need for balancing between Croats and Serbs
created a sufficient condition for formation of a new Bosnian Muslim nation.
C. MUSLIMS, CROATS AND SERBS IN A KINGDOM OF YUGOSLAVIA
The negotiation about unification of all South Slavs in one state started
even before the end of World War I. The Yugoslav Committee, which consisted
of exiled South Slavic politicians from Austria-Hungary, negotiated conditions for
unification with the chief of the Serbian government, Nikola Pasic. These
negotiations were held on the Greek island of Corfu in 1917, where the Serbian
government spent most of the war in exile. Committee was surprised with the
toughness of the Serbian position, but after Western pressure on the Serbs,
together they finally created the general framework for the unification of South
Slavs better known as the Corfu Declaration. At first, Serbs saw the unification
of all South Slavs as the realization of all their nationalistic and showed little
understanding of the demands of the Yugoslav Committee for an equal position
for all the nations in that state. Croatian delegates were especially sensitive to
issues of equality because Croatia, at least on paper, kept some kind of
autonomy in both the Hungarian-Croatian, and Austro-Hungarian states. But,
idealistic dreams about brotherhood and unity of all South Slavs prevailed, and
all problems were swept under the carpet in order to realize a more important
goal - unification.
South Slavic politicians who remained in Austria-Hungary did not have a
clear idea of what to do after the war. Some of them joined the Yugoslav
Committee in exile, while the others were examining all other options such as,
the creation of a joint South Slavic entity within Austria-Hungary, the creation of
independent states, and unification with Serbia.
Bosnian Muslims were divided. Some of them preferred autonomy for
Bosnia within the Hungarian state, while the others wanted an independent state.
Bosnian Croats and Croats in Croatia itself were also divided between groups,
those that wanted an independent state and those that wanted unification with
Serbia. A similar situation existed in Slovenia. At the end of October 1918, the
National Assembly, which consisted of delegates from Croatia, Slovenia, and
Bosnia-Herzegovina, met in Zagreb, Croatia and established the country of
Slovenes, Croats, and Serbs (SHS). But, with Italian occupation of the western
parts of Slovenia and Croatia, public opinion in these lands shifted toward
unification with Serbia, in the hope that the Serbian military might protect
territories on the west. So, the country of Slovenes, Croats, and Serbs got
unified with The Kingdom of Serbia on December 1, 1918. The new Kingdom of
Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes was established without any guarantees about the
status of non-Serbian nations and lands.
The worst Croatian and Slovenian nightmares were realized. The Serbian
government showed no intention of confronting Italy. With the help of Muslim
delegates, a centralist state structure was imposed. Bosnian Muslims, organized
in Yugoslav Muslim Organization (JMO) and led by Mehmed Spaho voted for a
centralist constitution in 1920, in return for a less radical agricultural reform, and
in some way for the preservation of territorial-administrative borders of Bosnia 4 .
Disappointed with the centralist constitution, Croatian delegates left the
Assembly in Belgrade. Croats were also disappointed with the Muslims' position
of sacrificing a more serious systematic goal, the internal organization of the
whole state, for some minor benefits. Spaho cooperated in several unstable
governments, acting somewhere between anti-centrist Croats and centrist Serbs.
During the next years, tension between Belgrade and Zagreb continued to
grow and a crisis culminated in 1928, when a Serbian delegate killed the leader
of the main Croatian Peasant Party (HSS), Stjepan Radic, and four other
Croatian delegates in the Belgrade Assembly. For the most radical Croats from
the Croatian Party of the Right (HSP), led by Ante Pavelic, that was a clear sign
that a political agreement with the Serbs was not possible. They then emigrated
to Italy and established the Ustasha (uprising) movement. They would return to
4 Bosnia kept its old administrative division in six territorial units and outline of Bosnia was
preserved, what did not happen with Croatia and Slovenia.
Croatia with German troops in 1941 and establish a German dominated
Independent State of Croatia.
After the Radio assassination, there were numerous riots throughout
Croatia. King Aleksandar took advantage of the political chaos, and imposed a
dictatorship in January 1929 that continued until his death in 1934. He renamed
the country Yugoslavia and reorganized her into nine "banovinas" (districts)
which had nothing to do with the historical borders of the South Slavic regions.
Bosnia was divided into four "banovinas" and Muslims became the minority in
each of them, because they covered some parts of neighboring Serbia, Croatia,
and Monte Negro. In 1930, Reis ul-ulema (a Muslim religious leader) was
transferred from Sarajevo to Belgrade by the King's decree, which additionally
disappointed Bosnian Muslims.
These and other similar political steps turned Muslims' public opinion
toward a stronger cooperation with Croats. Again Spaho decided to cooperate
with Slovenes and one faction of Serbs, led by Stojadinovic, in the new Yugoslav
government formed after the king's death. The participants in this government
formally signed a unification pact between their parties, but Stojadinovic was
ousted by his own party and found himself in the strange position of ruling the
country without the support of the main Serbian and Croatian parties.
Realizing that there would be no stability in a country without a
fundamental political settlement between Serbs and Croats, the Regent Pavel,
who formally ruled Yugoslavia after Aleksandar's death, induced negotiations
between the main political Serbian and Croatian parties. In 1939, Vlatko Macek,
the new leader of the strongest Croatian party HSS and Dragisa Cvetkovic, the
leader of the strongest Serbian party signed an agreement between Serbs and
Croats which ensured Croatian autonomy within Yugoslavia.
Muslims were deeply disappointed with this agreement in which some
parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina with a Croatian majority were included in newly
formed "Banovina Croatia." Spaho died during the negotiations, and his
successor Djafer Kulenovic called for the establishment of a special "Banovina"
for Bosnia. But, the Serbs considered the rest of Bosnia to be their asset and
showed no intention of making any concessions to Bosnia.
The political position of Muslims during the inter-war period was rather
complex. The majority of Muslims were inclined toward better cooperation with
Croats, and some of them were disappointed with Spaho's political maneuvering.
The most pro-Croat Muslim politician, Hakia Hadjic, set up the Muslim branch of
the Croatian Peasant Party, but he only got a handful of Muslim votes. Mehmed
Spaho's brother Fehim, who was Reis ul-ulema and declared himself a Croat, 5
had a leading role in the pro-Croat Muslim cultural association. Yet he was
adamant about preserving a separate Muslim identity and issued an order
against mixed marriages.
During the inter-war period, the Bosnian Muslims had been passing
through the process of transformation from a religious to a national community.
The majority of them thought that Bosnia should preserve a separate identity in
the Yugoslav state, even in the areas where the Serbs and Croats were a clear
majority. This political goal survived World War II and later was embodied in the
Socialist Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina within Tito's Yugoslav Federation.
D. WORLD WAR II
The Kingdom of Yugoslavia capitulated after only twelve days of
resistance to German, Hungarian and Bulgarian troops. Even before the military
operations were completed, under German patronage, Independent State of
Croatia (NDH) was proclaimed. That country consisted of Bosnia, and most of
continental Croatia. The Croatian coast became part of the Italian Empire. That
"independent" country was officially divided into German and Italian zones of
influence, and the line of division was drawn diagonally from the Northwest to the
Southeast. The political leadership of NDH consisted of emigrants, mostly
members of the Croatian Party of the Right (HSP), who went abroad after
Stjepan Radio's assassination in 1928. They assumed that a political agreement
with the Serbs was not possible. Because of German domination, the NDH
imposed some anti-Jewish racial laws, but its primary concern was the vast
Serbian minority in the central parts of Croatia and Bosnia. Muslims were
guaranteed all rights, and were generally considered Croats of Islamic origin.
Some prominent prewar pro-Croatian Muslim politicians were co-opted into the
5 Noel Malcolm, Bosnia, A Short History (New York: New York University Press, 1994), p. 185.
government. This was supposed to ensure Muslim popular support to the new
Serbs were soon driven to opposition of NDH and started an armed
struggle against the Ustasha troops. Mutual retaliation and counter retaliation
created a crime-spiral, which could hardly be stopped. The Serbian military
resistance was based on the old Serbian Chetnik (trooper) tradition of guerilla
warfare used during World War I. The most active were Chetniks in Bosnia, not
so much against the Germans and Italians, 6 but against the Croats. Those in
Serbia lay low and waited for the uprising, which would eventually come when
the Allies turned the war against the Germans. 7
While atrocities committed by Croats against the Serbs, and those
committed by Serbs against Croats could be explained, the Chetniks' crimes
against Bosnian Muslims are not understandable. Although Bosnian Muslims did
not like the position of Bosnia within the NDH (they had been seeking for
autonomy), after these crimes, 8 many of them joined either the Ustasha
organization or the special SS German-organized units. Later, those Muslims
also took part in crimes committed against the Serbs.
6 Actually, Chetniks openly collaborated with Italians in Bosnia from the beginning of the war, and
with Germans from 1943.
7 Noel Malcolm, Bosnia, A Short History (New York: New York University Press, 1994), p. 177.
8 Chetniks killed several thousand Muslims in period 1941-1942 in regions of Bileca, Foca,
Gorazde, and Visegrad.
Josip Broz Tito led the Communist resistance in a loose alliance with the
Chetniks in the early stages of war. Very soon, the Germans pushed him out of
Serbia to Bosnia, where he stayed throughout the rest of the war. 9 In Bosnia, his
predominately Serbian troops merged with the Croatian Partisans (from the
coast), that were fighting against Italian occupation. Tito's ideologists created
slogans about equality, brotherhood, and the unity of all Yugoslav nations. This
attracted people of all nationalities to his units. But, the strength of his units was
usually overestimated and the Germans initiated all serious armed clashes
against Germans. Tito's main concern was the possibility of an Allied landing in
the Balkans, which might have prevented him from taking over power after the
war. After the Soviet liberation/occupation of Belgrade in 1944, his position was
The position of three Bosnian nations in World War II was rather different.
A minority of Bosnian Croats joined the Ustasha organization, but many of them
welcomed the establishment of a Croat dominant state. Later, some of them
even joined the Tito's Partisan resistance.
The majority of Bosnian Serbs joined the Chetnik movement in the
beginning of the war, and later when Tito came into Bosnia some transferred to
the Partisan troops. With the approaching end of war, the Serbs massively
transferred from the Chetniks to the Partisan movement.
9 Even, "Chetnik" leader, former Colonel of royal Yugoslav Army moved in Bosnia-Herzegovina,
where he had much stronger base. From early 1942 until the Soviet Third Ukrainian Army troops
came into Serbia in October 1944, there were no armed struggles in Serbia at all.
The position of the Bosnian Muslims was rather complicated. In the
prewar period they were more inclined toward Croats, but they were not satisfied
with the territorial organization of the NDH, which did not ensure special status
for Bosnia-Herzegovina. Such vague relations with Croats created a significant
diversity in the Muslim armed resistance. Some of them joined the Ustasha
troops; others participated in the self-organized "Muslim Volunteer Legion"
which fought more against the Partisans than against Chetniks. They also tried
to cooperate directly with the Germans. Some Muslims joined the German SS
troops called the Handjar Division. In the Zenica region, almost incredibly,
Muslims led by Dr Ismet Popovac created the joint Muslim-Chetnik groups. 10
Finally, the fifth group of Muslims joined the Partisan movement, when they
became more politically and militarily distinguishable from the Chetniks. After
the end of World War II many Muslims accepted the idea of living in communist
Yugoslavia, which unlike the Ustasha and Chetnik solutions, offered a federal
state structure in which Bosnia-Herzegovina continued to exist as a separate
E. YUGOSLAVIA IN TITO'S TIME
The events during World War II, which in the case of the former
Yugoslavia were the mixture of civil wars and struggles for independence, largely
determined the role and the relations among Yugoslav nations during the post-
10 Noel Malcolm, Bosnia, A Short History (New York: New York University Press, 1994), p.188.
war period. The Partisan resistance was a small-scale movement 11 throughout
the war, and the majority of the Yugoslav population was not involved in any kind
of resistance. But at the end of the war, a massive transfer of Chetniks to the
Partisans simultaneously enlarged Tito's political base and ensured the Serbian
dominance during the postwar period. The Majority of war veterans were
absorbed into the ranks of the Communist Party, and under Tito's patronage they
had been tailoring the destiny of Yugoslavia until 1990.
Croats were in a difficult position because the majority of them lived for
four years in the NDH. By default, their loyalty to a new regime was
questionable if they had not taken part in the active Partisan resistance. Even
Croatian veterans were not in a much better position. They started with the
resistance in June 1941 without waiting for an official order from the Communist
Party's Central Committee in Belgrade and Tito never forgave them that
disobedience. 12 In 1948, the most influential leader of the Croatian Communists,
Andrija Hebrang, was prosecuted in one of Tito's show-trials and later died under
unexplained circumstances in Belgrade's prison.
Bosnian Croats were in an even worse position than Croats in Croatia
itself, because their participation in the Partisan movement was rather small.
They favored the Ustasha movement and they probably were the predominant
element of that organization. Their over-representation in the Ustasha
movement is easy to explain. With Bosnian absorption in the NDH, Bosnian
1 1 Partisans tied down only four low-caliber German Divisions instead of twelve, which was
officially proclaimed. Ibid. p. 182.
12 Croatian Communists began active resistance on June 22, 1941 and Tito's Central Committee
in Belgrade made the decision on resistance on July 4, 1945.
Croats would have benefited the most. All other options, either an independent
Bosnia, or the annexation by Serbia, would have put them in a minority position.
The Croatian people would have borne the brunt of the creation of the
NDH for a long time after the World War II. In Tito's time, they were tenants in
their own Socialist Republic of Croatia, because Croatian Serbs held most of the
ruling, administrative, and police posts. Croatian contributions to the Federal
budget were not followed with a proportional number of Croatian representatives
in the Federal administration and in the Federal Army. This unacceptable
situation caused a lot of frustrations. These frustrations broke out in the early
1970s during the movement known as the "Croatian Spring." Tito purged the
leaders of the movement, but he also changed the Yugoslav constitution toward
further decentralization. The "Croatian Spring" in 1971, and the armed
insurgency started by one extreme emigrant Croatian group in 1972, confirmed
the Serbian propaganda that Croats were destructive and that deep inside they
never forgot the NDH. Later, every Croatian political step was judged with
Ustasha in mind.
Needless to say, Croats in Bosnia suffered even more. Their reputation
was so bad 13 that they could hardly get any job in a state agency or the
government. 14 Discrimination fueled frustration and anger, and caused heavy
13 How bad the Croatian reputation was, can be seen from an interesting comparison of two Noel
sentences. "In the Yugoslav Parliament of 1924, all the Muslim deputies identified themselves as
Croats, except for Spaho himself." In contrast, "[a]n analysis of Party functionaries with Muslim
names in 1956 Yugoslav 'Who is Who' shows that 17 per cent declared themselves as Croats and
62 per cent as Serbs." Noel Malcolm, Bosnia, A Short History (New York: New York University
Press, 1994), pp.165-166 and p.197).
14 In 1971 , the Croats comprised more than 20 per cent of the Bosnian population, but it was
hardly possible to find a Croat holding any important official position. Ibid., p.203.
emigration of Bosnian Croats to Republic of Croatia and Western countries after
World War II. These frustrations would explode in strong nationalistic feelings
during the first free elections in 1990 and Croats would vote for parties with
strong Croatian national tendencies.
With the creation of a separate Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina in the
Yugoslav Federation, the old dreams of Bosnian Muslims almost came true.
Although until the 1960s, Muslims were not recognized as a separate nation, a
separate Bosnian Republic ensured their survival as a separate ethnic group.
They were not assimilated by either the Serb or the Croats. Post-war political
events in the world and in Yugoslavia played an important role in their furthering
their national affirmation. Tito's connections with the Islamic countries in the
Non-Allied Movement, and the general change of internal policies from integral
Yugoslavisms toward decentralization, 15 enabled the strengthening of the
separate national identity of Bosnian Muslims. Bosnian Communists of Muslim
origin pushed for their recognition as one of the full-fledged Yugoslav nations in
1960 and they wanted their identity to be recognized, not as a religious but as a
national one. At the same time, there was a revival of religious beliefs embodied
in Alija Izetbegovic's Islamic Declaration, where he argued that Muslims should
not abandon the spiritual values of Islam in exchange for western materialistic
values. In the 1970s, Bosnian Muslims went to study at Arab universities, and in
1977, a Faculty of Islamic Theology was established at the Sarajevo University.
The Olympic Winter Games held in 1984 significantly contributed to the
urbanization of Sarajevo, and the further promotion of a special Bosnian identity.
15 This was possible after the dismissal of Aleksandar Rankovic, who was Tito's chief of Security
Service and the strongest promoter of Yugoslav centralism.
However, the Bosnian Communists carefully watched all attempts to connect the
Muslim religion to the Muslim nation. In the late 1970s, Communist authorities,
estimating that the revival of Islam in Bosnian went too far, drew from the
archives an old accusation against the Muslim clergy for cooperating with the
Germans and Ustashas. In 1983, a group of religious Muslims was sent to
prison, accused of doing "hostile and counterrevolutionary acts derived from
Muslim nationalism." The leader of the group was Alija Izetbegovic.
Bosnian Communists of Muslim origin became the predominant factor
within local Bosnian authority in the late 1960s, and they made significant efforts
in building a separate Bosnian identity. With the decentralization of Yugoslavia
their job was much easier and they were supported by a small number of Croats
in the Bosnian Central Committee, such are Branko Mikulic and Hrvoje Istuk,
who were trying to avoid a complete Serbian domination over the Bosnian
Communist Party. Being short of cadres, the Bosnian Croats often ceded their
slots in the high party and state's posts to Bosnian Muslims. After some time,
Muslims took that practice for granted without paying attention to the interests of
Bosnian Croats. During the reign of the Communist dictatorship, such policy was
possible, but after the first free elections, the situation changed dramatically.
The Croats became political factors in Bosnia. Suddenly, it became obvious that
Bosnian Croats and Bosnian Muslims have different political interest, besides
prevention Serbian domination in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
III. THE DESTRUCTION OF YUGOSLAVIA
A. THE KOSOVO ISSUE - SERBIAN NATIONAL REVIVAL
With the first rumors about Tito's serious illness in 1980, foreign observers
predicted the dissolution of Yugoslavia along republican and ethnic borders
immediately after Tito's death. They usually pointed above all to Croatian
nationalism and separatism, driven under the surface after 1971, and they did
not expect that the final Yugoslav crisis could start in any another place.
The Serbo-Albanian conflict suddenly broke out in Kosovo in 1982 was
thus a considerable surprise. Kosovo and Vojvodina were two autonomous
provinces within Serbia, and in 1974 these provinces got the right of
representation on the Federal level. Serbian nationalists were dissatisfied with
the status of Kosovo and Vojvodina even before 1974. Until the dismissal of
Rankovic, who ruled in Serbia with an iron fist, their control over Kosovo was
guaranteed. In the 1970s, the situation in Kosovo was normalized, and ethnic
Albanians enjoyed a significant level of cultural and political autonomy. Ethnic
Albanians had been the clear majority in Kosovo since the 1960s, and in the
early 1980s their nationalists considered that Kosovo should get the status of a
republic within the Yugoslav Federation. Since 1982 Kosovo has been under a
permanent police and military occupation. The International community accused
Yugoslavia of violating the human rights of the Albanian population in Kosovo,
but mad no move to intervene.
Albanian unrest in Kosovo only fueled the dissatisfaction of Serbian
nationalists, who became louder in expressing their views after Tito's death. In
the mid 1980s, Serbian nationalism vigorously revived. A number of books and
articles 16 were published expressing the discontent with the position of the
Republic of Serbia in Federal Yugoslavia, and sometimes they expressed open
contempt toward other Yugoslav nations, not just toward Albanians. They
expressed discontent with the "subordinate position" of Serbia within Yugoslavia,
and in general for them, other Yugoslav republics exploited Serbia. 17
In 1986, leading Serbian intellectuals drafted the notorious
"Memorandum" of the Serbian Academy of Science and Arts. 18 In it, they
protested "the poor" position of Serbia within Yugoslavia, and raised the
"question of the integrity of Serb people and their culture in the whole of
Yugoslavia." They stated that integration could be achieved either by a strong
centralization, as in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, or by the creation of an
independent Serbian state that would comprise all parts of Yugoslavia where the
16 I am referring to journals such as Duga, Nin, etc and the fiercely anti-Muslim novel Noz ("The
Knife"), written by Vuk Draskovic. Dobrica Cosic wrote a novel in 1985 glorifying the Chetnik
movement and so forth.
17 Actually, the Serbs benefited the most in comparison with other Yugoslav nations. The largest
portion of the federal budget was spent for their benefit, because the Serbs were over represented
in all federal institutions. The Serbs were 36% of the total of Yugoslav population (census 1991)
but in they were in military 68%, diplomacy 55%, in federal administration 90%, and so forth.
18 Memorandum Srpske Akademije Nauka i Umetnosti, <http://www.beograd.com/sanu/ >
[Access October 21, 1998]
Serbs lived. Both ways lead to confrontation with other Yugoslav nations, and
the Serbs started preparations for that conflict.
In 1986, the Yugoslav Army crated a new plan for the defense of the
country called RAM. 19 It assumed that NATO would invade Yugoslavia with an
incredible number of 15 air-born operations on Croatian coast. The line of
Defense that was supposed to be established after the NATO attack, looked
surprisingly like the borders of a Greater Serbia. The Army barracks in that area
were reinforced and additionally equipped. In addition, the Yugoslav Army
carried out a territorial reorganization. The Belgrade Military District "swallowed"
the former military districts of Nis and Sarajevo and a large part of the Zagreb
Military District. The new Belgrade Military District, together with two thirds of the
Sea Sector of Split, looked like the imagined borders of a Greater Serbia, but at
that time pointing out such a coincidence would have been considered "science
B. THE CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS
Simultaneously with Gorbachev's Perestroyka, the European Community
undertook further steps toward expansionism and more importantly for
Yugoslavia, regional integration. The European Community even gave the
opportunity to regions from communist countries to participate in its regional
projects. The western Yugoslav republics of Slovenia and Croatia took a chance
19 For an in depth explanation see issues of the journal Hrvatski vojnik (Croatian Soldier) in June,
July, and August 1997.
and joined the Alpe-Adria project, which aimed to strengthen cultural and
economic cooperation among Alpine and Adriatic countries. New winds from the
West and from the East (perestroyka) induced the process of liberalization in
western parts of Yugoslavia. At the same time, Yugoslavia headed toward a
deep economic crisis. The Slovenian and Croatian public realized that the only
way to overcome the crisis was the democratization of Yugoslavia and its
integration into the European Community. Public opinion was transferred to the
Slovenian and Croatian Communists who unofficially were proposing
constitutional changes in Yugoslavia in order to converge on the west.
The Serbs also wanted constitutional changes, but in a different direction.
In 1987, Slobodan Milosevic came to power in Serbia and very soon he
embarked on the policy of Serbian nationalism, realizing that nationalism was a
powerful tool for the manipulation of the Serbian masses. In the beginning, his
main supporters were Serbs from Kosovo, but very soon nationalism spread all
over Serbia and other parts of Yugoslavia with predominantly Serbian
population. In late 1988, and early 1989 Milosevic ousted the elected leaders of
Vojvodina and Monte Negro installing his own supporters. The leaders of the
Albanian Communists were suspended and then prosecuted at a show-trial
reminiscent of Stalin's days. In March 1989, the Serbian Assembly abolished the
political autonomy of Vojvodina and Kosovo, clearly breaking the Federal
constitution, but Milosevic was smart enough to keep newly appointed (not
elected) representatives of these provinces in all Federal institutions. These
steps ensured his dominance in the Yugoslav Federation. Communists from
other republics were shocked, but their policy until early 1989 can only be
described as appeasement.
After the abolition of Kosovo's autonomy, ethnic Albanians went on a
general strike. Milosevic responded with strong repression. After some time, the
leaders of Slovenia and Croatia refused to contribute to the units of the Federal
Police, because developments in Serbia and Kosovo represented a policy that
was in total opposition to prevailing liberal (western) ideas. 20 The Serbs
perceived this withdrawal of Slovenes and Croats from Kosovo as treason.
Until that moment, the Milosevic-controlled media used to attack only
Slovenian Communists, but after that moment they turned on Croatian
Communists and Croats in general. Croatian Communists kept a rather low
profile in the bitter Serbo-Slovenian quarrels and they did not respond to the
occasional Serbian "shootings" over Croatia. But new Croatian leadership
answered Milosevic's attack. That provoked a reaction out of Croatian Serbs,
who held their first mass meeting in support of Milosevic in Knin, which would
later be known as a center of the self-styled Serbian Krajina.
Bosnian Communists, who were known as hard-liners and the guardians
of Tito's cult, kept low in these conflicts and tried to lessen the growing tensions
between Serbia and the western republics. During this time they were largely
preoccupied by internal problems. Their most influential cadres were stuck in a
large scandal connected with the issuing of promissory notes at high interest
rates without any backing. The conflict damaged the credibility of two of the
most influential families in Bosnia, Pozderac and Dizdarevic, who were ousted by
younger cadres. But, the younger Communists were not able to control the
processes of national segregation that already had started in Bosnia.
Although Yugoslavia was decentralized, all the Yugoslav republics except
Serbia were strongly centralized. This was a typical Communist model of ruling,
which assumed interference in all aspects of life. This policy went hand in hand
with the wishes of the Muslim population in Bosnia, who wanted to
preserve/create a "special" Bosnian national identity. But, Bosnia was culturally
and ethnically diverse and each region had specific differences. So, it was totally
incorrect to prescribe the same rule of behavior for every corner of such a
diverse country. For instance, all Bosnian children studied one year of the
Cyrillic alphabet, and another the Latin alphabet, regardless of how many Serbs,
Croats, or Muslims lived in certain region. 21 Even if the Serbs comprised 99 per
cent of the population in some districts, they had to learn the Latin alphabet
every second year. A similar situation existed with the Muslims and Croats.
They had to learn the Cyrillic alphabet every second year even if they comprised
99 per cent of the population in some districts. Communists were actually
engaged in a national building process, without paying attention to the fact that
20 In 1989, the leader of Croatian Communists, Stanko Stojcevic, a Croatian Serb, was replaced
by the more liberal Ivica Racan.
the Bosnian Orthodox and Catholic populations had passed through a nation-
building process one hundred and fifty years earlier. It was not possible to
reverse that process.
The beginning of Serb-Croat quarrels horrified the Muslims, who realized
that it might mean the end of a unified and unitary Bosnia, in which they were
able to preserve their separate Muslim identity. Muslims were afraid of the
possibility that if Bosnia were absorbed either by Serbia or by Croatia, they would
become just a religious group once more. They had every reason to try to avoid
a war, because they were the smallest and the weakest national group. In 1989
Milosevic had already made the decision about war, and the mistake of the
Muslim's leadership was that they did not recognize it.
In the summer of 1989, Serbs celebrated the 600 th anniversary of the
Kosovo battle against the Ottoman Turks, and Milosevic gave a notorious
speech in which he announced the war. He finished the process of subjecting
Yugoslavia to his control. Out of eight votes in the Federal presidency, he
Slovenia did not waste time in protecting herself and she passed a new
liberal constitution by which laws of the republic took precedence over Federal
laws. Croatian Communists were careful not to take any provocative steps in
21 The Croatian language is written in Latin script exclusively, while the Serbs use Cyrillic script.
that direction, because of the Serbian minority in Croatia, but unofficially, they
did not try to stop liberalization. Very soon, Slovenian and Croatian public life
was enriched by new alternative movements and at the end of 1989, the first
independent political parties appeared. 22
Slovenian and Croatian Communists made a last reconciliatory effort at
the Party Congress in January 1990, but when the Slovenian Communists
walked out, it became clear that Yugoslavia was falling apart. Milosevic tried to
persuade delegates from other republics to continue the Congress without the
Slovenians but the Croatian Communists refused. Admiral Simic, a Croat from
Bosnia and the Chief of the Communist Organization in the Yugoslav Army,
made a very significant decision. He suggested a recess to enable further
consultation. But this temporary break became the final meeting of the Yugoslav
Even before the Congress, Croatian Communists made the decision to go
to free parliamentary elections. Slovenians immediately followed the Croatian
decision and they announced the beginning of an electoral campaign. Elections
were held in April 1990. Although both, Croatian and Slovenian Communists
changed their affiliation and got rid of radicals, they lost the elections. Voters
elected parties that promised to protect them from the growing Serbian
nationalism, if needed, by secession - The Liberal-National Coalition in Slovenia
22 Most of the new political parties were established illegally, because the Croatian parliament
passed the necessary laws in the spring of 1990.
and the popular national party called Hrvatska Demokratska Zajednica (Croatian
Democratic Union) or HDZ in Croatia. The Croatian Serbs were organized in the
Serbian Democratic Party (Srpska Demokratska Stranka) - SDS, which got the
majority of its votes from Croatian Serbs. That party asked for a cultural
autonomy of Croatian Serbs if Croatia remained in the Yugoslav Federation or
political autonomy if Croatia seceded. Later, radicals in the party connected with
Milosevic, started using much tougher rhetoric 23 and demanded the complete
secession from Croatia and connection with Serbia. They were not bothered
with the fact that there was not even a territorial link of predominantly Serbian
populate parts of Croatia with Serbia. The link was established via the Bosnian
Serbs in 1992.
In the spring of 1990, the Communist Parties in all Yugoslav republics
disintegrated. The Communists tried to reorganize themselves and the majority
decided to become parties of Social-Democratic orientation. A significant
number also joined other political parties. The Serbian Communist Party
became the Socialist Party of Serbia, and Bosnian and Croatian Communist
Parties became the Parties of Democratic Change.
During the electoral campaign in Croatia and Slovenia, the Chief of the
Communist Party in the Yugoslav Army, Admiral Simic (a Croat) suddenly died.
That enabled the Serbian radicals to grab complete control of the Yugoslav
23 During the electoral meeting in Petrova Gora, Serbs frequently called the new leader of
Croatian Communist Ivica Racan - Ustasha, in spite of fact that he was born in a Nazi camp in
Armed Forces. Even before it was known who would win the elections, the
decision was made to seize the weapons of the Territorial Defense Forces 24 in
these two republics. Slovenians were faster in seizing their weapons and they
kept the bigger portion. In Croatia the Army seized everything. This event
proved that the Army was not just anti-HDZ, but anti-Croatian, because it
grabbed the weapons before the results of elections were known.
Free elections in Serbia and Monte Negro were postponed because of the
relative loss of Milosevic's popularity in the first half on 1990. The situation in
Bosnia became more complicated. Bosnian Communists decided to go with free
elections, but they wanted to prevent the creation of national parties, because
they were afraid that these national parties would destroy Bosnia. Afterwards,
the Constitutional Court decided in favor of the creation of national parties, and
in May of 1990 the Party of Democratic Action was registered. This was the first
national party in Bosnia-Herzegovina, whose leader was recently released
political prisoner, Alija Izetbegovic. Soon after, the major Serbian and Croatian
national parties were established and it was "coincidental" that they had the
same names like the major Croatian and Serbian parties in Croatia - HDZ and
24 Territorial Defense Forces were under the control of the Yugoslav republics, unlike the Federal
Army, which was nominally under Federal control.
In the summer of 1990, Bosnia was in the middle of an electoral
campaign. The political situation in Bosnia reflected the overall political situation
Serbian nationalists in the SDS spoke about the inequality of the positions
of Serbs in Bosnia, and about Serbian unity and so forth. Extremists from the
Serbian Radical Party (SRS) were openly speaking about a Greater Serbia that
would absorb Bosnia and much of Croatia.
The Croatian radicals from the Croatian Party of the Right (HSP) openly
spoke about the union of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia, and secession from
Yugoslavia. They insisted on Muslim-Croat cooperation. The majority party of
Bosnian Croats - HDZ proclaimed that Bosnian Croats would never accept living
in a Serb dominated state.
The largest Muslim national party, the SDA, spoke in general terms about
the need to preserve a special Bosnian identity, but it was very careful in
responding to Serbian nationalists that had been tailoring Yugoslavia according
to their wishes. The rhetoric of Alija Izetbegovic was rather soft and vague as far
as the Bosnia relations with Serbia and Croatia are concerned. He was very
careful not to say anything to provoke the Serbs. That was a completely
inappropriate policy for the Bosnian political situation. A significant number of
Muslims expected a much tougher course toward open Serbian nationalistic
aspirations, and to some extent they were disappointed by Izetbegovic's rhetoric.
Ordinary Muslims wanted a much closer alliance with Croats, and Croatian and
Muslim flags were seen tied together at electoral meetings. HDZ posters were
printed with both the Croatian and Muslim symbols and later, a significant
number of Muslims in the cities of Mostar and Bugojno voted for HDZ. Although
Croats were the minority in these cities, HDZ won the elections.
On the whole, however the elections in Bosnia-Herzegovina were just
another census. The people voted for the major national parties, and these got
the majority of seats in Parliament. The parties agreed to form a ruling coalition,
which lasted less than one year.
D. THE WARS IN SLOVENIA AND CROATIA
The situation in Croatia deteriorated rapidly after the elections. During
one session, Croatian Serb Radoslav Tanjga named the Croatian Parliament,
the Ustasha Sabor. 25 The stormy reaction from the Croatian representatives
was just a good excuse to leave Parliament forever.
In August 1990, the Chief of Police in Knin refused to recognize the
authority of the Minister of the Interior in Zagreb, and effectively started an
armed insurgency. The Minister sent a special police force by helicopter to Knin
to take over the police station in Knin, but the jet fighters of the Yugoslav Air
Forces intercepted the helicopters and forced them to return to Zagreb. This
was the first open interference by the Yugoslav Armed Forces in the Serb-Croat
conflict on the Serbian side. The number of armed incidents between the
25 Sabor is the name of the Croatian Parliament, as Seim in Poland or Duma in Russia.
Croatian and Serbian villages in the districts with a Serbian majority increased
The new Croatian authorities realized that a disarmed Croatia could not
fight the Yugoslav Armed Forces. In September of 1990, they probably made
the decision to buy weapons abroad and to strengthen their police forces. Police
Forces were the only regular armed forces available for the defense of the
republic. 26 Simultaneously, contacts with the International community were
made to determine its reaction to the possibility of Croatian independence. The
response was a negative one, and authorities changed public rhetoric by no
longer speaking about a full Croatian independence but about a Yugoslav
confederation of independent states. Milosevic simply answered that Croatia
could be independent, but without the territories where Serbs lived.
The number of incidents in Bosnia was rather small in comparison with
the electoral campaign in Croatia. Elections were held in December 1990 and
Bosnia-Herzegovina got its first freely elected Parliament. Macedonia and
Serbia also held elections, and in December 1990, all Yugoslav republics had
free elected leaderships. It was their turn to try to find a new constitutional
solution for Yugoslavia. In January 1991 , they all agreed to try to find a solution
acceptable for everyone in next six months. Croatia and Slovenia added that if
the solution were not found, they would declare independence.
26 Belgrade accused Croatian authorities to of employing only Croats, but the truth was that in
such a politically tense atmosphere, the Serbs refused to wear the Croatian badges, calling them
The tensions between Croatia and the Army were increasing daily and the
leadership of Croatia was invited to Belgrade to clear up the problems. But, the
Army Intelligence wanted to publicly compromise the Croatian leadership by
presenting the findings about weapons being smuggled into Croatia. A deal was
cut to stop provocative actions on both sides and the army would collect all
illegally acquired weaponry.
Now when the Croats were presented in a negative light to the rest of
Yugoslavia, the Serbs were free to do what they intended. In early spring of
1991 , they tried to conquer a police station in Pakrac, Western Slavonia, but they
were forced to retreat. One month later, they tried to conquer a famous resort,
Plitvice, in Central Croatia, but after a short attack 27 they were forced to retreat
again. The Army deployed its forces between the Croatian Police and the
insurgents, but in effect they cooperated with the Serbs by securing their safe
passage. The number of incidents was increasing rapidly in all areas where a
significant number of Serbs lived. In early May, the Serbs set up an ambush of
Croatian Police and killed twelve Policemen in Eastern Slavonia. The army
played its role in every incident, pretending to be a buffer between the sides, but
in reality fortifying the Serbian territorial conquest against Croatian villages.
Political battles were similar to those in the field. The leadership of the
Yugoslav republics made no progress during six summits held in the first half of
1990. In the spring, there were three official propositions for a new constitutional
order of Yugoslavia. Serbia and Monte Negro 28 proposed a more centralized
state, Croatia and Slovenia proposed a confederacy, while Bosnia and
Macedonia proposed an "asymmetrical federation," in which Croatia and
Slovenia would have more independence than other republics. But no one
wanted to accept anyone else's proposal. Croatia and Slovenia held a
referendum in which the population could vote for three official proposals and an
overwhelming majority of the people voted for independence.
The situation in Serbia deteriorated suddenly when a demonstration
against Milosevic escalated into street riots. The Serbian opposition protested
against Milosevic's control over the mass media. The Yugoslav Army wanted to
take advantage of this situation and almost staged a legal coup. Milosevic
controlled four votes in the Yugoslav presidency, and only one vote was needed
for the introduction of "extraordinary circumstances", effectively military
dictatorship; but the Bosnian Serb, Bogie Bogicevic refused to vote for it, and the
plan failed. Milosevic responded that Serbia would not obey Federal laws.
Afterwards, he changed his mind and the Serbian representatives returned to the
In June of 1991, according to the Yugoslav constitution, the Serbian
member of the Yugoslav Presidency, in a leading role, should have been
27 That was first incident of shooting with fatalities on both sides.
28 After the "yogurt" revolution in October 1988, Monte Negro became nothing but a Serbian
replaced by a Croatian representative, but the Serbs refused to do that. A
Constitutional crisis that started with abolishing the autonomy of Kosovo and
Vojvodina, reached its climax. That step assured that Croatia and Slovenia
would carry out their decision from January 1991 and they both declared
independence 29 from Yugoslavia on June 25, 1991. The next day, the war
between Slovenia and the Yugoslav Army broke out. The International
community stepped in at that moment.
The war in Slovenia lasted only ten days. The EU-troika 30 mediated the
peace formalized in the Briuni Agreement, according to which the Yugoslav Army
had to withdraw from Slovenia. In return, Croatia and Slovenia froze their
decisions on independence for a three-month period. The European Community
committed itself to mediate a solution during that period. On the other side, the
Yugoslav Army, Croatia and Slovenia promised to refrain from military and other
But, the real war in Croatia just started. In early August 1991, the
Yugoslav Army reinforced its forces in Croatia and started an open war against
Croatia. Especially strong attacks were focused on the city of Vukovar in
Eastern Slavonia, where the Serbs were the minority of the population. This
29 According to the Yugoslav Constitution of 1974, all republics had the right of self-determination
30 The Troika consists of the past, present, and future president of EU commission.
region was a prosperous 31 area separated from Serbia by the Danube River.
The Army also attacked to the South in the Dubrovnik region, where there were
no Serbs at all. Maneuvering through Bosnia to encircle Dubrovnik, the Army
burned several Bosnian Croatian villages, sending a clear message to the
Bosnian Croats - the enemy was not just the Independent Republic of Croatia
but Croats in general.
In September 1991, Croatia established the General Staff of the Croatian
Armed Forces - HV (Hrvatska Vojska). During September and October 1991,
the Special Police and Volunteer Forces conquered several of the military
stockpiles, which enabled additional mobilization. Every conquered stockpile
meant a few more brigades of the new Croatian Army. By the end of year, the
Croatian Army had almost 200,000 troops and the Yugoslav Army lost initiative.
Actually, the Croatian Army liberated the previously occupied areas of its territory
in Western Slavonia. In November 1991, the Yugoslav Army finished the
destruction of Vukovar expelling 50,000 civilians to the free Croatian territory.
That created the pattern of behavior used in the Bosnian war, later know as
In December, the situation calmed down and Croatia and the Yugoslav
Army signed a peace agreement in Sarajevo on January 3, 1992. Both sides
agreed to bring the troops of the United Nations on contested Croatian territory.
31 Oil and fertile agricultural fields.
On January 15, 1992 the European Community recognized Croatia and Slovenia
as independent states.
E. BOSNIA BEFORE THE WAR
The severe debates in the free elected Bosnian Parliament started from
its establishment in December 1990. The government was formed as a coalition
of major (Muslim, Serbian, and Croatian) parties, but political tensions in other
parts of Yugoslavia reflected on Bosnia, and the government could hardly pass
any law through Parliament without severe debates.
The serious problems started with negotiations between the presidents of
the Yugoslav republics. Alija Izetbegovic, the new President of the presidency,
had to represent the view of the Bosnian people during the debates but there
were three views in Bosnia as to the future of the Yugoslav Federation.
The Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, gradually shifted his rhetoric
toward radicalism. Bosnian Serbs were not satisfied with the way Izetbegovic
represented their interests. Their leadership established a close relationship with
Milosevic and with the officers of the Yugoslav Army in Bosnia in the first half of
1991 , and that led to radicalization of their demands in Parliament.
Bosnian Croats were also dissatisfied and rather confused with
Izetbegovic's balancing between them and the Serbs. Serbian behavior gave
them enough evidence that the Serbs did not intend to make any compromises
with anyone and that Bosnia was headed toward war. They took the Muslim-
Croat alliance for granted, but Izetbegovic refused to formalize that alliance.
Izetbegovic did not want to take any serious steps that might in any way
provoke the Serbs. On the other hand he was divided between his two roles, the
leader of the Bosnian Muslims, and the leader of the republic. Sometimes he
acted as though he wanted independence for Bosnia, and then rapidly changed
his position. The political goal of the Bosnian Muslims was undoubtedly to
preserve Bosnian independence and the unity of the republic, 32 but they could
not achieve that alone. In February 1991, SDA and HDZ proposed the
declaration of Bosnian sovereignty, but in March 1991, Izetbegovic pleaded for
an asymmetrical Yugoslav Federation, in which Bosnia-Herzegovina would keep
the same position. For Bosnian Croats, it would have been unacceptable if
Bosnia had had stronger constitutional ties with Serbia, than with Croatia. But,
Croatia was on her way to independence and for Bosnian Croats that was the
only possible step.
Izetbegovic's chronic indecisiveness and strange political steps confused
them. In July 1991 his decision was for Bosnia-Herzegovina to apply for
membership in the Organization of Islamic Conference. 33 Croats also did not
like his ideas on Bosnia as a civil state. This would leave the Croats without
participation in the power, because they were the smallest national group in
Bosnia-Herzegovina (17.8 per cent). Bosnian Croats could, to some extent,
32 On February 27, 1991 Izetbegovic publicly said : " I would sacrifice peace for a sovereign
Bosnia-Herzegovina, but for that peace in Bosnia I would not sacrifice sovereignty."
33 An incredible step, in spite of fact that Christians, Serbs and Croats together (50 per cent) are
the majority in Bosnia. Muslims are the biggest single group (44 per cent).
understand Izetbegovic's ignorance of the Croatian war, but what they resented
him the most for was his ignorance of the attacks of the Yugoslav Army on
Croatian villages in Bosnia. 34 In that moment, Izetbegovic acted not as the
President of all Bosnians (including Croats), but as the President of Bosnian
Muslims only. Bosnian Croats realized what could happen in the future to all of
them, but Muslim leaders refused all their initiatives 35 to undertake any
precautionary measures to protect the people against Serbian brutality. This
was probably the moment when Izetbegovic lost his credibility with Bosnian
Croats. Appeasing the Serbs, he scarified principles in exchange for a little
Izetbegovic's actions were reflective of the divisions among the Bosnian
Muslims. Some of them were convinced that it would be possible to make an
agreement with the Serbs although at the time Radovan Karadzic openly
threatened 36 extermination of Muslim people. That group, led by Minister of the
Interior, Alija Delimustafic, had already cooperated with the Yugoslav Army.
Bosnian police secured the lines of logistic support for the Yugoslav Army that
34 The Yugoslav Army burned down several Bosnian Croat villages in the hinterland of the
Dubrovnik area, but Izetbegovic avoided condemning it, saying the famous sentence: "This is not
35 Defense Minister Jerko Doko, a Bosnian Croat, proposed to Izetbegovic the mobilization of
Territorial Defense Units, but he refused that idea. Laura Silber and Alan Little, Yugoslavia: Death
Of A Nation (TV Books Inc., distributed by Penguin USA, 1996), p.291.
36 On October 15, 1991 , Karadzic threatened that if the Muslims and Croats had voted for
Sovereignty of Bosnia, the Muslim population would have disappeared.
was engaged in Croatia. 37 Later, that Minister of the Interior was dismissed, but
his actions largely contributed to the estrangement of Muslim-Croat relations.
The other group of Muslims, out of Izetbegovic's control, tried to make an
'historical agreement" in August 1991, with Milosevic. According to the Belgrade
Declaration, Bosnia would remain in Yugoslavia with some guarantees for the
Muslim minority. But, that was not what Izetbegovic wanted. His goal was an
independent Bosnia-Herzegovina within Tito's borders, but he did not want to
openly ask for that, in order not to provoke the Serbs. He wanted someone else
to make that decision so that Serbs could blame them, not himself.
On the other hand, Izetbegovic's doubts about Croatian intentions
became stronger after the rumors about a secret meeting between Tudjman and
Milosevic in July 1991, at which they allegedly carved-up Bosnia. This meeting
is usually the main argument for all political analysts of the events in the former
Yugoslavia who like conspiracy theories. It is probably the main reason for the
personal aversion of Izetbegovic toward Tudjman. On the other hand, Tudjman
resented Izetbegovic's indecisiveness and his pleading within the International
community for non-recognition of Croatia in December 1991, although
37 According to Aleksandar Vasiljevic, the head of the Yugoslav Army counter-intelligence, "He
[Delimustafic] agreed to establish joint Bosnian police-Army patrols and checkpoints, on railways
and roads to control traffic and prevent armed movements by paramilitaries, as well as to provide
for real Army movements. Especially since the military needed to get through to Knin from Serbia
and Montenegro to the war there. If they had not gotten through we would never have been able
to fight. Bosnia was our corridor to Krajina" Laura Silber and Alan Little, Yugoslavia: Death Of A
Nation (TV Books Inc., distributed by Penguin USA, 1996), p.292.
Izetbegovic himself asked the International community on November 30, to
extend the recognition to all Yugoslav republics. 38
In December 1991, the International community put Izetbegovic's back to
a wall: recognition was offered to everyone, if the majority of the people wanted
that. Even before the referendum on independence, the Serbs announced a
boycott. Actually, in the autumn of 1991, they already prepared for establishing
their own Republic of Srpska Bosnia and Herzegovina within Bosnia-
Herzegovina. The Yugoslav Army withdrew from Slovenia and Croatia, and later
secured the borders of Bosnian Serb republic. It is not clear why Izetbegovic did
not want to see that. It was so obvious. He did nothing to prepare his own
people for the war that started in March 1992, which was even before the results
of referendum were known.
In the period before the war in Bosnia, Muslim-Croat relations frequently
changed. This was the consequence of differing political goals they had in mind,
and the different strategies that were chosen to achieve them. Izetbegovic
wished for an independent Bosnia, but he did not want to confront the Serbs,
realizing how weak the Muslim position was.
The ideal option for Bosnian Croats was a "Great Croatia," which would
consist of Croatia and Bosnia, but that was an impossible solution which did not
survive World War II. The other solution, the partitioning of Bosnia, would make
an unpleasant precedent for Croatia, whose borders were contested too. That
38 Ibid., p.216.
was why they were encouraged from Croatia to vote for an independent Bosnia.
But, in their minds that independent Bosnia could not be Izetbegovic's unitary
and civil state. They wanted a decentralized state that could ensure preservation
of a separate Croatian identity. Unfortunately, Croats and Muslims were pushed
to fight for an independent Bosnia-Herzegovina even before they started talks
about its future constitutional organization. In effect, they fought for two different
states - a centralized and decentralized Bosnia and Herzegovina. The
International community, whose inconsistent policy toward the Yugoslav crisis
only made things worse, did not recognize that problem.
F. THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY
Western countries closely followed the development of the constitutional
crisis in the former Yugoslavia, but primarily focused on the Soviet Union and its
former allies. The United States and the European Community thought that the
preservation of Yugoslavia would be the best solution for all Yugoslav nations,
but they were ready to accept any peaceful solution. In the second half of 1990,
the West was preoccupied with the crisis in the Gulf, and Yugoslavia was its
second concern. The free elected leaderships of Croatia and Slovenia (April,
May 1990) were unanimously discouraged by all western countries in their first
talks about the possibility of international recognition.
When the situation in Yugoslavia deteriorated in the summer of 1991, the
European Community and the United States chose a different approach. The
European Community offered to give financial aid when the crisis was resolved,
while the United States cut down its present financial support until the crisis was
With the end of the Gulf war, American diplomacy had more time for the
Yugoslav and East European problems. On the eve of the Slovenian and
Croatian proclamation of independence on Jun 20, 1991, Secretary of State
James Baker came to Belgrade to express American support of the liberal
government of Premier Markovic and the unity of the country. The Army clique
considered that to mean that they had free reign for military intervention in
Slovenia. They did not pay attention to the warnings from the United States and
the European Community, that they prefer to see a peaceful dissolution rather
than a forceful unity.
When war broke out in Slovenia, the United States condemned the use of
force, but they limited its actions on active participation in the United Nations
Security Council and through the activities of the United States Embassy in
The European Community had just started its Common Foreign and
Security Policy in accordance with the provisions of the Maastricht Treaty. When
the Slovenian war broke out, the European Troika was traveling from Zagreb to
Belgrade (Slovenian airports were blocked off) and finally mediated a truce
signed on the Croatian Island of Briuni, by which the Yugoslav Army had to
withdraw from Slovenia to Bosnia and Serbia. The Troika did not even try to
tackle the more complicated problems in Croatia. Bosnia was not on their mind
As the situation in Croatia deteriorated, the European Community realized
that the Troika was not an efficient way of dealing with all Yugoslav problems. At
the end of August, the European Community declared the use of force in
Yugoslavia illegal, and demanded that Serbia allow EC observers to come into
Croatia. The EC also set up the arbitration commission of international jurists
headed by French Lawyer Badinter to judge 39 the issues of succession among
the republics. They also appointed a special mediator for Yugoslavia, former
British diplomat Lord Peter Carrington. He quickly realized that Slovenia was not
the problem at all, and more troubles could be expected in the upcoming days in
Croatia and Bosnia. Carrington organized the first sessions for the chiefs of the
Yugoslav republics in The Hag in September of 1991, trying to determine what
kind of solution could satisfy the minimal of demands of every republic. His first
problem was that he did not know what kind of mandate he got from the
European Community. His only guidelines were the decisions of the Badinter
In October 1991, he proposed the effective confederation of six
independent Yugoslav republics. Details would be worked out in working groups.
39 The first decision was that Croatia and Slovenia did not secede, but Yugoslavia fell apart and
recommended that the Helsinki Charter of non-violation of borders should be applied to the
borders of Yugoslavia. The population that did not want to stay in some republic should be given
the option to move somewhere else. That decision turned Serbian public opinion against the
Special constitutional guarantees were made for minorities in Croatia, and
Serbia. All three nations in Bosnia-Herzegovina would keep their constituent
position. Croatia, Bosnia, and Macedonia accepted his proposal, but Serbia 40
and Slovenia were not satisfied with this solution. With the Yugoslav Army out of
country, Slovenia was just a step away from full independence and she would
accept only minimal ties with other Yugoslav republics. Carrington managed to
find Slovenia a more flexible solution for her ties with the rest of Yugoslavia, but
Serbia completely refused his proposal. Serbia was not ready to give such a
degree of autonomy to Albanians in Kosovo, as she demanded for Serbs in
Croatia. In the beginning of the session, it seemed that Milosevic, under
international pressure, agreed to accept the right of self-determination for
republics, not for the nation as he demanded before, but Milosevic finally showed
his intentions in the following statement:
Serbia could not accept the working groups continuing to proceed on the
basis of the lowest common denominator of identified interests, and
institutional arrangements. The conference should try to identify genuine
common interests which could be defended in a common state. It was
essential for all Serbs to live in one state, not in a number of independent
republics bound by little more than interstate relations. If this was not
accepted by the other republics, the right course would be to recognize
those republics wishing it [independence], after having settled the question
of the succession of Yugoslavia and after having agreed on border
40 Usually, Monte Negro closely followed the Serbian opinion.
41 Laura Silber and Alan Little, Yugoslavia: Death Of A Nation (TV Books, Inc., distributed by
Penguin USA, 1996), p.192.
Actually, Serbia wanted to annex the territories of Croatia and Bosnia, and
to be the sole legitimate successor of Yugoslav states. The only difference
between a small Yugoslavia and the Greater Serbia would be in the name.
Those who did not like that solution would be broken by military means.
In mid November, international public opinion turned against Serbia.
Milosevic was recognized as the main obstacle to peace. During the summit of
the European Union in Rome on November 8, 1991 - foreign ministers proposed
economic sanctions against all Yugoslav republics until the crisis was resolved.
This British and French dominated decision at the European Union was
on the track of Resolution 713 of the United Nations Security Council, sponsored
by the same countries from September, 25 1991. They also undermined the
Dutch proposal of interposing 30,000 troops in Croatia. 42
The absence of moral grounds for these even-handed decisions only
infuriated the public around the world, and especially in Germany. The German
public had long been sympathetic toward the Croatian and Slovenian suffering
and after these morally questionable decisions it put Foreign Minister Genscher
under strong pressure to recognize Slovenia and Croatia immediately.
To apply the same pressure to all republics equally meant that Croatia
and the other republics must make further concessions to the Serbs, over and
above those proposed in Carrington's General Settlement, if they wanted to
42 Susan L. Woodward, Balkan Tragedy (Washington D.C.: The Brookings Institution, 1995),
survive. The Franco-British policy was not to annul openly the findings of the
Badinter Commission, 43 but to apply enough pressure on other republics who
would then accept the Serbian terms. In that case, the European Community
could wash their hands, because the unfair agreement would be an inter-
Yugoslav decision, not something imposed by the European Community.
Germany diplomacy disliked that policy, but in the beginning it did not try
to break with the unity of the European Union. However, after these pro-Serb
Franco-British decisions, Germany realized that in essence this policy lead to the
acceptance of Serbian territorial conquest. If the German government continued
to comply with the Franco-British dominated EC foreign policy, it could hardly
survive the next election. During the meeting of the EC foreign ministers in
Brussels on December 17, Genscher pressed the other colleges to recognize
Slovenia and Croatia. They compromised and left to the Badinter Commission
to recommend the republic eligible for recognition. Four republics applied for
recognition, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, and Slovenia. The
Badinter Commission set up as one of conditions for recognition, control of the
borders, which Croatia could not fulfill without accepting the battle front lines as
the permanent borders. Realizing that she was outwitted, Germany announced
the recognition of Croatia unilaterally. Then, the European Community decided
to recognize Slovenia and Croatia, but Britain and France got what they wanted
43 See p.55.
- a scapegoat that would bear responsibility for breaking the European
Community's unity and for subsequent deterioration of conditions in Yugoslavia.
IV. MUSLIM-CROAT ALLIANCE 1992-1993
A. CARRINGTON-CUTILEIRO PLAN AND INTERNATIONAL RECOGNITION
In late 1991, Greater Serbia began to emerge on the map of Europe. The
Croatian Serbs, supported by irregulars from Serbia proper and the Yugoslav
Army, conquered almost 30 per cent of Croatian territory. Bosnia was deeply
involved in the Croatian War in many different ways 44 and the political situation
became rather explosive. In October 1991, Radovan Karadizic was threatening
the extermination of the Muslim population if Bosnia became an Independent
state. In spite of this threat, the Muslims and Croats passed the resolution on
Bosnian sovereignty. In November, the SDA party demanded that the EC
extend international recognition to all Yugoslav republics. Izetbegovic was afraid
of Serbian retaliation and in November 1991, pledged in the EC for non-
recognition of Croatia before settling the Bosnian problem.
In December 1991, Bosnia and Herzegovina, together with Croatia,
Macedonia and Slovenia, applied to the Badinter Commission of the European
Union for international recognition. With international recognition of Croatia and
Slovenia in January 1992, Bosnian recognition became a realistic option. To
satisfy the requirements for recognition, the Bosnian government had to have
popular support for its request for recognition. The government announced the
44 See sub-Chapter "Bosnia Before The War."
referendum in March of 1992, but the Bosnian Serbs announced a boycott of
that same referendum.
Previously in the fall of 1991, the Bosnian Serbs announced the
organizing of their own territorial entity in Bosnia-Herzegovina, without defining
the borders of that entity. When it became clear that the European Union had
shifted its position toward the international recognition of the former Yugoslav
republics, the Bosnian Serbs organized their own referendum. Their referendum
was to confirm their decision to keep their illegal entity of the Republic of Srpska
Bosnia-Herzegovina in Yugoslavia. On January 9, the Serbs proclaimed their
entity (later renamed the Republic of Srpska) to be a part of the Yugoslav
Realizing how explosive the situation in Bosnia was, the International
community tried to facilitate a constitutional agreement for Bosnia-Herzegovina,
even before the result of Muslim-Croat referendum was officially known. The
task of mediation was given to Lord Carrington, a special envoy of the EC to the
former Yugoslavia and to Portuguese Ambassador Jose Cutileiro. They
proposed the administrative-territorial reorganization of Bosnia starting from the
Bosnian ethnic map. The country would have been reorganized according to the
model existing in Switzerland - Bosnian districts would have become ethnic
cantons. Carrington and Cutileiro used very simplified principles for the
determination of ethnic cantons. For instance, if in some cantons there lived
even a small majority of Serbs, the canton would be Serbian. They were not
bothered with the fact that Muslims and Croats, who together represented a
majority in some canton, would not like to live in a Serbian canton (see Figure 1).
Carrington-Cutileiro (Lisbon) Plan
Source: Lee Bryant, "Bosnia-Herzegovina," War Report
(November/December 1992), p.12.
This was the moment when serious political differences between Bosnian
Muslims and Bosnian Croats appeared. Bosnian Muslims wanted to keep the
unitary structure of post-World War II Bosnia that would assure their domination
in the country. They did not trust either the Serbs or the Croats, especially in
light of rumors about the agreed carve-up of Bosnia between them.
On the other hand, being the smallest Bosnian nation (17.8%), Bosnian
Croats tried to avoid political domination by two other peoples. Their ideal option
was a Croatian-Bosnian union, but on the eve of international recognition of
Bosnia, that option was not a real one. Therefore, Bosnian Croats tried to
achieve, at any expense, some degree of autonomy in the predominantly
Croatian areas of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Under international pressure in Lisbon, all three sides made some
concessions, and they generally agreed to preserve the external borders of
Bosnia-Herzegovina and to carry out the internal partition on an ethnic basis.
The talks should have continued until the territorial division was agreed upon, but
Izetbegovic changed his mind after returning to Sarajevo. Powerful members of
the SDA party rejected the ethnic partition of Bosnia and forced him to abolish
the Lisbon Agreement. Izetbegovic's indecisiveness would continue throughout
the next three years. In this case, by changing his mind Izetbegovic turned down
the best offer he ever got. Every ensuing proposal for the peace agreement in
Bosnia would be worse.
Disappointed by Izetbegovic's new position, leaders of the Bosnian Serbs
and the Bosnian Croats met secretly in Graz, Austria, trying to achieve bilateral
agreement. But, they achieved nothing except fueling old rumors about a Serb-
Croat carve-up of Bosnia. Serbs felt they were too strong to make concessions
to other nations. They already prepared themselves for war.
B. THE WAR
Almost immediately, the first incidents began in the northern part of the
country. The Serbs and Croats fought in Bosanski Brod. A similar situation
began in the Mostar region in the south of the country. In the northeast, the
Serbian irregulars massacred Muslims in Bijeljina.
The situation was deteriorating rapidly. Surprisingly, the presidency of the
republic issued a statement that they still considered the Yugoslav Army to be
the Bosnian Army and that the Army would protect the Bosnian people. The
Bosnian Croats were shocked after this statement. They did not understand that
political step, because it had become clear during the Croatian war that the Army
had become the Serbian Army.
The result of the referendum on independence (held from February 28
until March 1 ) was known in advance. The Serbs largely boycotted referendum
but some voted for staying in Yugoslavia; Muslims and Croats voted for Bosnian
independence. On April 6, the EC recognized Bosnia-Herzegovina as an
independent state. The same day war started in Sarajevo. Very soon, Serbian
troops occupied all strategic hills around the city. In practice, the Serbs did not
need to conquer anything. They just replaced the badges of the Yugoslav Army
with Serbian badges. All Yugoslav Army officers born in Bosnia were transferred
from Serbia, Montenegro, and Macedonia to Bosnia. 45 The Yugoslav Army in
45 "Milosevic and I were talking about it... We instructed the General Staff to redeploy troops
and to transfer all those born in Bosnia to Bosnia and withdraw those born in Serbia and
Montenegro to Serbia and Montenegro... [By the time of recognition], I think, eighty-five percent
Bosnia became the Army of the Bosnian Serbs. But, different Serbian militias,
which had had fighting experience during the Croatian War, committed most of
the terrible crimes.
By the end of the summer of 1992, the Serbs conquered almost two-thirds
of Bosnia. The Muslim population was expelled from almost all areas where the
Serbs and Muslims had lived intermixed before the war. With help from Serbia
proper, the Serbian forces almost fully controlled the Drina Valley - a natural
border between Serbia and Bosnia with several important power plants. In
Eastern Bosnia, Muslim resistance continued in the small cities of Gorazde,
Srebrenica, and Zepa. They became thorns in Serbia's side. In Western
Bosnia, only the Bihac enclave survived. All other cities were ethnically
cleansed. In the summer of 1992, the Serbs established concentration camps
for Muslims and Croats in the area of Prijedor. Those non-Serbs, who avoided
the concentration camps, were later expelled. The situation in Central Bosnia
(Zenica, Travnik) was a little bit better. Central Bosnia with the Tuzla enclave in
the northwest, remained the only area of free peace in the Bosnian territory
under Muslim control.
Sarajevo was encircled. The Serbs conquered all the suburban areas
where a significant number of Serbs lived (Hadzici, llidza, llijas, Rajlovac,
Lukavica, etc.). Eastward from Sarajevo in Pale, the Serbs established a
of them were from Bosnia," said Branko Jovic in Laura Silber's and Alan Little's, Yugoslavia:
Death Of A Nation (TV Books, Inc., distributed by Penguin USA, 1996), p.218.
temporary capitol. There were no routes into or out of Sarajevo. Together with
the free enclaves in Eastern Bosnia, Sarajevo began starving.
Bosnian Croats entered the war a little bit better organized than the
Bosnian Muslims. The Bosnian Croats got the clear message from the war in
Croatia. They knew what kind of treatment they could expect in the future from
the Serbian Army and they tried to induce the Muslims to organize the joint
resistance through Territorial Defense Units. 46 Having failed in this attempt, they
turned to their kinsmen in Croatia. The Republic of Croatia helped them to
organize the areas of defense where a significant number of Croats lived. So,
Bosnian Croats had only two significant military formations in the beginning of
the war - the HVO and the HOS (Hrvatske Oruzane Snage or Croatian Armed
Forces). These units existed until the winter of 1992, at which time the HOS
units were either dismissed or merged with the HVO units. The HVO units were
better organized and equipped than the military forces of the Bosnian Muslims,
but these units were also organized on the territorial principle and a majority of
them were able to defend only their own villages.
Such units were not able to resist the well-organized Serbian military
force, and the Croats were defeated in the Kupres area in April of 1992. On
June 16, 1992 Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina signed a formal military alliance,
which legalized the military assistance of the Croatian Army to Muslim and Croat
troops in the border areas of Bosnia-Herzegovina. In the summer of 1992, the
46 Ibid., p.52.
Croats successfully liberated the east bank of the river Neretva and the city of
Mostar. In the Posavina region, close to the northern Bosnian-Croatian border,
the Croatian troops controlled a large part of the Bosnian territory cutting the
connection between the Banja Luka (Serb dominant) region and Serbia. But,
under strong international pressure, the Croatian Army had to limit its assistance
in the Posavina region and joint Serbian troops (from Serbia and Bosnia) broke
the notorious Posavina corridor, which connected Banja Luka and the Krajina
region with Serbia. The Bosnian Croats were driven over the river Sava to
Croatia. Having secured supplied lines, the Serbs conquered Jajce in Central
Bosnia. The city was defended by a joint Muslim-Croat defense, but because of
deteriorated Muslim-Croat relations in Central Bosnia, it did not get help for a
long time and finally fell into Serbian hands.
By the end of 1992, the Serbs had conquered almost 70% of the Bosnian
territory, and kept it almost three years without significant changes.
C. THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY
Refusing to mobilize, in order not to provoke the Serbs, President
Izetbegovic put the destiny of the Muslim people in the hands of the International
community. Unfortunately, the International community did very little to protect
his people and Bosnia-Herzegovina from Serbian aggression.
From the beginning of the crisis in the former Yugoslavia, the actions of
the international community reflected an inconsistent approach. Its policy
wavered from support for the territorial integrity in Yugoslavia (spring 1991), to
the decisions of the Badinter Commission (August 1992), to the collective
punishment of all Yugoslav republics by imposing arms and economic
embargoes (September and October of 1991), even as Serbia was designated
as main obstacle to peace. It then wavered to the international recognition of
Croatia and Slovenia (later Bosnia), but at the same time denied them the right
to self-defense which led to the violation of the UN Charter. Almost all decisions
and actions of the international community were driven by current events on the
ground, rather than by some firmly established policy.
Apparently, the problem was the absence of leadership. The United
States (Bush Administration) ceded the problem to the European Community
(Union). But the foreign policy of the European Union was set in list of English,
French, or German national interest. That is why those decisions were so
inconsistent. These sometimes worked in favor of the Serbs, sometimes in favor
of the Croats or Muslims. Because of such inconsistencies, the European
Community lost its credibility in the eyes of the players on the ground, giving
them reason to believe that they could do whatever they wanted (without being
In May of 1992, the United Nations recognized Bosnia-Herzegovina as a
full-fledged member of the international community, but its "decision to recognize
was not accompanied by a commitment to follow through with the consequences
of recognition that flowed from the UN Charter and international law. The
consequences were to guarantee the integrity and inviolability of the states that
were recognized. 47 The economic sanctions against the Federal Republic of
Yugoslavia (Serbia and Monte Negro), introduced by Security Council of the
United Nations at the end of May 1992, were the only effective step undertaken
by the international community against the Serbs. By withdrawing diplomatic
personnel from Belgrade, the international community placed Belgrade in
The extension of the UNPROFOR mandate from Croatia to Bosnia only
complicated the different diplomatic efforts. It is very hard to resist the
impression that Britain and France launched the UN mission in Bosnia and other
humanitarian actions to prevent military action, because they had troops on the
ground. "From July till November 1992, they [Britain and France] objected,
stalled and weakened each resolution being pressed by the United States that
involved grater use of military power." 48
Finally in late August of 1992, the European Community (supported by the
UN) organized London Conference, which was the most ambitious international
summit on Bosnia. The Conference condemned the role of Serbia in the
Bosnian crisis, but also enabled the Serbs to eschew the international isolation.
The conference established the standing Peace Conference for former
47 Zalmay M. Khalizad, "Lessons from Bosnia" (RAND, 1993).
48 Susan L. Woodward, Balkan Tragedy (Washington D.C.: The Brookings Institution, 1995), p.
Yugoslavia, which would be co-chaired by UN envoy Cyrus Vance and Lord
In the winter and spring of 1993, the humanitarian crisis reached its
climax. Sarajevo and the enclaves in the east of the country were on the brink of
starvation. Above all, the Serbs launched their final attacks against the eastern
enclaves. Pushed by the promise of the commander of the UN troops, the UN
Security Council proclaimed the establishment of the UN safe areas. But, there
were no UN forces to protect those areas. Apparently, the international
community showed no will to punish Serbian crimes. The Muslims and the
Bosnian Croats understood the message.
D. ALLIANCE THAT NEVER WAS
Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats were pushed into a military alliance
because both nations were victims of Serbian aggression. But, the political
leadership of these two nations never tried to determine common political goals
for their alliance. That was not possible, because they did not have common
political goals, but only one basic goal - to survive Serbian aggression.
Both nations harbored deep suspicions about each other's intention.
Muslims suspected Croatians of secret negotiations with Serbs, while Croats
resented the Bosnian Muslim role in the Croatian war, which the Croats
considered a stab in the back. As far as contacts with the Serbs were
concerned, the truth was probably that no nation had "clean hands." But, the
most problematic aspect in the relations between the Bosnian Muslims and the
Bosnian Croats was their completely opposite views about the future
organization of the Bosnian state. The Muslims wanted a unitary Bosnian State
organized on the principle of one-man/one-vote, while the Croats could only
accept a decentralized political system that would guarantee their rights as the
smallest Bosnian nation. Events pushed them into an uneasy military alliance
before they could determine what they would fight for.
Bosnian Croats had been criticized many times for their excessively close
relations with Croatia proper. But, the circumstances in Bosnia in 1992 left them
no choice. The Bosnian Croats realized that they had to protect themselves.
Bosnian Croats were completely dependent on logistic support from Croatia.
Humanitarian, military and all other aid came from Croatia. On the one hand, the
ideal political solution for Bosnian Croats assumed that establishing strong
institutional connections with Croatia was what was needed. These war-driven
events only played into the hands of those factions that wanted to be absorbed
by Croatia. Banovina Croatia, or the "Independent State of Croatia" from World
War II, was the ideal territorial solution for them, but Bosnia-Herzegovina
became an independent state and the minimal political option they could accept
was a strong territorial autonomy for the predominantly Croatian areas of Bosnia-
Herzegovina. That option looked realistic for those who lived close to the
Croatian border, but many of them lived intermixed with Serbs and Muslims and
they were afraid of being "unprotected" in the predominantly Serb or Muslim
areas. 49 But, by the beginning of the Bosnian war, the political significance of
Bosnian Croats who lived on homogenous territories increased, because they
were able to mobilize more men into the military units. The Croats who lived in
small isolated communities or in big Muslim or Serb cities were the majority of
the Croatian population in Bosnia, but they were not able to organize significant
military units. In some areas (cities) they did it, and surprisingly survived
throughout much of the war. Their political significance was decreased during
Even before the beginning of the war, the political significance of the
Croats who lived in homogenous areas was significantly increased. It was
reflected in the replacement of the chief of the main Bosnian Croat party - HDZ.
Mate Boban, who lived in the predominantly Croatian Western Herzegovina,
replaced Stjepan Kljuic, who lived in Sarajevo. After the liberation of Mostar, the
political importance of Croats in Herzegovina increased, because it was the only
large city in Bosnia-Herzegovina under Croatian control. So, the Bosnian Croats
decided to capitalize on their military strength in political life. Because the
military strength of the Bosnian Muslims was on a low level, the Croats could
ignore their political opinion. They thought they had full rights and enough
strength to continue the process started by the European Community in Lisbon in
February - i.e. the ethnic partitioning of Bosnia-Herzegovina. On July 2, 1992
49 In the case of autonomy, when the Croats were exclusive sovereigns in areas where they
were the majority of the population, they would lose the right to be a sovereign nation in areas
where the Serbs or Muslims were majority of the population.
the Bosnian Croats proclaimed the establishment of the Croatian Community
The Muslim reactions and the reactions of international observers were
strongly negative. Though the Croats tried to persuade everyone that with the
establishment of Herzeg-Bosnia they just tried to organize their civil life in a free
Bosnian territory 50 which was really chaotic, most observers compared Herzeg-
Bosnia 51 with the notorious Republic of Srpska. The truth is probably the
following: The Bosnian Croats had no intentions of seceding from Bosnia in that
moment, but Herzeg-Bosnia was for them, a kind of insurance policy at a time
when all other options about the future of Bosnia were opened. They probably
thought: "If Bosnia survived, good - we will have an autonomous region. If
Bosnia is stillborn, good - we will join Croatia."
This step by the Bosnian Croats only increased the old tensions between
Muslims and Croats. The Croats accused the Muslims of avoiding the burden of
defense of the country, while in political life, the Muslims-dominant government
took the prerogative to speak in the name of the Bosnian Croats. In some areas,
the Croats even helped to equip the Muslim units, because they were over-
50 Unlike the Republic of Srpska, which the Serbs considered to be independent from Bosnia, all
official documents and seals of the Herzeg-Bosnia carried the title "Republic of Bosnia and
Herzegovina - Croatian Community Herzeg-Bosnia."
51 Both entities had no foothold in the Bosnian Constitution, but from the Fall of 1991, no political
decision in Bosnia was made with the consensus of all three constitutional nations. After all, the
legal terms of all government officials expired in December 1991, but Alija Izetbegovic and others
convinced the International Community that he and his government spoke for all citizens of
stretched. The Croats thought that their strong military engagement gave them
stronger political rights. Because the Croatian forces solely liberated the cities of
Mostar, Stolac, and Capljina, the Croats thought they had the exclusive right to
establish political authorities in these cities. Actually, the Croats even accused
some Muslims in Stolac of collaborating with the Serbs in the spring of 1992.
The situation became even worse after the fall of Jajce. Both, Muslims
and Croats were blaming each for the fall of the city. The tensions became
stronger, when 40,000 Muslim people from Jajce came to Travnik and other
cities changing ethnic balance in Central Bosnia.
Political tensions and several incidents on the ground created the
conditions for the Muslim-Croat war. The international community did nothing to
reestablish a Muslim-Croat partnership. Quite to the contrary, decisions made in
the spring of 1993 convinced the Muslim and Croat leadership that the
independent Bosnia and Herzegovina were stillborn, which triggered the Muslim
V. MUSLIM-CROAT WAR 1993-1994
A. VANCE-OWEN PEACE PLAN
After the London Conference 52 in late August of 1992, David Owen took
the place of the EU mediator, Peter Carrington. He continued working with the
UN mediator, Cyrus Vance, toward a comprehensive solution for the crisis in the
former Yugoslavia. The London Conference gave new impetus to diplomatic
efforts by establishing the International Conference of former Yugoslavia in
Geneva on September 3, 1992. Mediators shuttled from capitol to capitol in the
former Yugoslav republics, now independent states, trying to discover the
political least common denominator acceptable for all sides.
The beginning of the Bosnian war was also the beginning of the
presidential campaign in the United States. The Democrat candidate, then
Governor Bill Clinton, presented a different, more determined approach toward
the Bosnian Crisis 53 and especially toward the Serbs. Clinton pleaded for direct
military action. President Bush attacked him because of his inexperience in
foreign policy, but took up his proposal for denying military flights over Bosnia.
52 See p.70.
53 On July 12, he said, "The United States should take the lead in seeking UN Security Council
authorization for air strikes against those who were attacking the relief effort. The USA should be
prepared to lend appropriate military support to that operation. We should make clear that the
economic blockade against Serbia would be tightened, not only on weapons but also on oil and
other supplies that sustain the renegade regime of Slobodan Milosevic. European and US naval
forces in the Adriatic should be given authority by the UN to stop and search any that might be
This idea was later passed through the Security Council of the United Nations as
an official resolution.
In Europe, Clinton's words had a different impact. During preliminary
meetings with the leaders of the European countries, when Owen and Vance
tried to determine how far Europe was ready to go in the Bosnian crisis, French
President Francois Mitterrand specifically warned mediators of "the danger of
aggressive force 54 against the Serbs and ruled out airs strikes." This was
completely in line with the previous Franco-British "equal approach" attitude
toward all sides in the conflict. In the situation when one side was armed to the
teeth, and others were counting every bullet, such equality meant tacit support of
the stronger (Serbian) side. On the other hand, after international recognition of
Bosnia-Herzegovina it would be very hard to justify her partition between Serbs,
Croats, and Muslims, which would essentially mean the creation of a Greater
Serbia, a Greater Croatia, and an independent Muslim state. So, having this in
mind, Owen and Vance proposed a new constitutional solution and
administrative reorganization of Bosnia-Herzegovina - known as the Vance-
Owen Peace Plan.
The Plan presented at a Conference in Geneva on January 2, 1993
consisted of three main papers and one annex with interim solutions. According
carrying contraband heading for Serbia and her ally Montenegro." David Owen, Balkan Odyssey
(New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1995), p. 13.
54 Mitterrand was so eager to prove that Sarajevo could be used for humanitarian transports, and
that air strikes were not needed to support the delivery of food that he flew there at great personal
risk at the end of July 1992.
to the Vance-Owen Peace Plan, Bosnia was supposed to be a decentralized
state with ten provinces. Provinces were not designated with national names,
but they were organized on an ethnic principle. Sarajevo was supposed to be a
special district with multinational authorities. The plan would annul the major
Serbian territorial conquest, but it also confirmed the ethnic partition of Bosnia
(see Figure 2).
Comparing the Vance-Owen Peace Plan to the Carrington-Cutileiro Peace
Plan, it must be said that the new plan corrected some mistakes made in
Carrington-Cutileiro Plan, but the biggest flaw in the plan was in the territorial
simplification of the situation in central Bosnia. The authors took the Muslim-
Croat alliance for granted and joined ethnically mixed districts in central Bosnia
with the predominantly Croatian districts in Western Bosnia-Herzegovina, which
resulted in creating one big, predominately Croatian district. The plan also
required the Serbian withdrawal from large parts of predominantly Muslim
territory in Eastern Bosnia, but not from the city of Brcko. The authors obviously
took into account the military power of Bosnian Serbs (they obtained some
territories where they were not the majority of the population), the wishes of the
international community (the solution that can be implemented), and the wishes
of Bosnian Muslims (not to create either the Serbian or Croatian republic in
Bosnian state). So, the Croats had to give up Herzeg-Bosnia, the Serbs had to
give up the Republic of Srpska, and the Muslims had to give up the unitary
Source: Klemencic, Mladen. Boundary and Territory Briefing.
International Boundary Research Unit, Department of
Geography, University of Durham, United Kingdom. 1994.
Surprisingly, the strongest opposition did not come from the Serbian side,
which would have given up almost 40 per cent of the conquered territory, but
from the Muslims. Alija Izetbegovic endorsed the constitutional principles, but
the maps were totally unacceptable for him. He accused the mediators of
creating maps that would ratify the Serbian "ethnic cleansing" and effectively
prevent the return of refugees. Although he did not say that, he was not satisfied
with solutions in central Bosnia and Northern Herzegovina. Predominantly
Muslim districts of Central Bosnia and Northern Herzegovina, such as Konjic,
Jablanica, Donji Vakuf, and Gornji Vakuf, became Croatian provinces which
additionally increased the tensions between Muslims and Croats, who were
already on the brink of war.
The distribution of the population in Central Bosnia looked like a tiger's
skin. There was no district with a significant majority of the population of one
nation (above 66 per cent), and only few of them had over 50 per cent of the
population of one nation. The mediators could not create a predominantly
Muslim or Croat district in Central Bosnia by redrawing the borders of the
districts, because unlike those parts of Bosnia that were ethnically homogenized
by the Serbian territorial conquest, Central Bosnia still had the old mixed ethnic
structure intact. The proposed solution, which simply joined Central Bosnia to
the predominantly Croatian part of the country, infuriated the Muslims, and they
refused to sign the Vance-Owen Plan. The mediators thought that it would be
much easier to convince Bosnian Muslims in Central Bosnia to live in a Croat
dominated province, than to convince Bosnian Croats to live in a Muslim
dominated province. Unfortunately, the Muslim-Croat relations in Central Bosnia
were so bad at the moment that it would be hard to do that any way.
The Serbs rejected the constitutional principle, but accepted the most
difficult part to negotiate - the maps - as a good basis for starting negotiations.
Apparently, Karadzic left Izetbegovic alone to be "the black sheep." The Croats
accepted everything proposed by the Vance-Owen Plan.
The mediators turned toward the influential members of the international
community and asked them to press Izetbegovic to accept the plan to isolate
Serbs. The Russians accepted the idea and proposed the strong statement of
the Security Council, urging the parties to accept the plan. The statement was
endorsed by all missions in the UN, except the United States. The American
mission was cautious and suspicious of the Russians' motives. That was a very
tense moment for the United States mission in the United Nations, because
during the next ten days the new administration was to come to power, which
would definitely have a much more pro-Bosnian attitude. The United States'
mission issued a rather ambiguous statement about the Vance-Owen Peace
Plan and according to Lord Owen, 55 "... some in the US State Department were
encouraging Izetbegovic to seek changes in the map which we knew were not
negotiable and in all probability they too knew were not negotiable."
In spite of American reluctance, international pressure was fruitful and
during the next weeks the Muslims and Bosnian Serbs signed the constitutional
principles, while the Croats and the Serbs signed a cease-fire. But, there was no
Mediators then decided to move the negotiations to New York and to meet
the new American administration with all of the details of the plan. But, the
reports after the unified meeting of Secretary General Buthros Ghali, the new
Secretary of State Warren Christopher, and the mediators were rather
55 David Owen, Balkan Odyssey (New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1995), p. 94.
disappointing. The Secretary General expressed his ambivalence, while Warren
Christopher had "problems with the map." 56 Most of the media reported that the
United States refused to back the Vance-Owen Peace Plan.
During the next few months, mediators continued with negotiations by
slightly changing the map in order to accommodate the Muslims and the US
administration. Izetbegovic was close to signing the plan, but that shifted
Karadzic's opinion toward complete rejection. Now, the attention of the
international community was focused on the Serbs. The next step in that
direction was tightening the sanctions and blocking the Yugoslav assets, which
was endorsed by the resolution of the United Nations. The other problem for
mediators was how to establish a credible implementation force without the
support of the United States.
In the United States, there was a fierce public debate whether to abolish
the United States armed embargo against the Muslims unilaterally or to use the
military force and to impose a peace solution. The military was strongly opposed
to involvement in the Bosnian Crisis without seeing clear political objectives.
Above all they were opposed to being involved in the UN mission under French
command. The Vietnam syndrome had also played its role. 57
56 Ibid., p.108.
57 Mislav Burdelez, The Vietnam Syndrome and the conflict in former Yugoslavia (Monterey:
Naval Postgraduate School, 1996).
The situation on the ground was deteriorating rapidly. The Serbian
military commander, who was opposing the agreement, attacked the eastern
enclaves of Srebrenica and Zepa and they were about to fall. Armed incidents
between Muslims and Croats were significantly escalating in Central Bosnia and
the situation was about to explode, but the focus of the international community
was on the humanitarian crisis in Eastern Bosnia.
On March 25, 1993, after waiting for 5 hours for Izetbegovic, he and
Boban reached an agreement about interim arrangements and the provincial
maps. His habitual indecisiveness would continue into the future. Mediators
pressed the Croats and the Muslims to implement the agreement in areas under
their control, but that idea would remain unfulfilled especially in the light of
increasing Muslim-Croat tensions. The Croats tried to take advantage of the
provisions of the Vance-Owen Plan by introducing the joint command structure.
The Minister of Defense, Croat Bozo Rajic, made a unilateral 58 decision that
assumed that all Croatian military units would be subordinate to Muslim
command in the Vance-Owen provinces with Muslim majority, and all Muslim
units would be subordinate to Croatian command in the Croatian provinces. It
would mean that all Muslim units in Central Bosnia would be subordinate to the
Croatian Command, which was almost unimaginable in the light of the strong
tensions on the ground.
58 Misha Glenny, The Third Balkan War (London, New York: Penguin, 1996), p. 229.
The situation exploded in the middle of April of 1993. That was the
moment when Muslim authorities in Sarajevo probably made the decision to give
up on the Vance-Owen Peace Plan and to make some gains on the ground.
They were probably encouraged by the indirect support of the new United States
administration and some Muslim officials even hoped to achieve direct American
intervention in Bosnia. In the meantime they turned to the weakest party in the
Bosnian conflict - the Bosnian Croats. Conflict quickly spread over Central
Bosnia. On April 16, the General Staff of the ABIH (Armija Bosne i Herzegovine
- Muslim dominant Army of Bosnia-Herzegovina) ordered a general attack on the
Croatian enclaves in Central Bosnia. 59 The Croats in Central Bosnia were
surrounded until April 19. The Muslim forces tried to conquer the armed
factories in Vitez and Novi Travnik, which were under Croatian Control and to
gain control over the roads crossing the territories under Croatian control.
Unfortunately, due to bad discipline and a general lack of professionalism, the
heaviest casualties were among civilians. 60 This conflict remained in the
shadows of heavy battles and crimes committed in Eastern Bosnia. The local
commanders of the UN troops were successfully calming down the tensions
59 These documents were revealed during the trial in The Hague to the Commander-in-Chief of
Croatian Forces in Central Bosnia, General Tihofil Blaskic during the period between September
11 until October 11, 1998. <http:www.hina.hr> [Access October 20, 1998]
60 The International War Crime Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague accused 7
Bosnian Croats of different war crimes committed against Muslim civilians in Central Bosnia. The
most famous of them is the Commander-in-Chief of the Bosnian Croat forces in Central Bosnia
during that time; later the Chief of General Staff of Bosnian Croat forces HVO, General Tihofil
between the Muslims and the Croats until the summer of 1993. But, in June of
1993, this local conflict became a full-scale war between the Muslims and the
Croats in Central Bosnia and Western Herzegovina as well.
Until April of 1993, Izetbegovic formally accepted the Vance-Owen Peace
Plan, probably because he felt that Karadzic would never accept it. The
pressure of the international community was turned on to the Serbs, and soon it
produced some results. Milosevic accepted the plan and tried to persuade
Karadzic to do the same. Milosevic did not like the plan, but he tried, at any
expense, to avoid the financial and other sanctions imposed by the international
community. He pressed Karadzic and his clique very hard, but they managed to
escape Milosevic's pressure by ceding to the decision of the "Parliament" of the
Republic of Srpska. To Milosevic's surprise, the "Parliament" rejected the plan.
He lost control over the Bosnian Serbs. In the very least, the Vance-Owen
Peace Plan and the sanctions split the Serbs.
The mediators realized that they must expose the Bosnian Serbs to the
direct pressure of the international community, including their traditional allies,
the Russians and the Greeks. In early May, the mediators persuaded the Greek
Prime Minister Mitsotakis to host a summit, at which the international community
would convince the Bosnian Serbs to accept the agreement. The meeting
started on May 1, 1993 and continued for three days until the Bosnian Serbs,
exposed to pressure and open threats, conditionally signed the plan.
The session of the Bosnian Serb "Parliament" started immediately upon
return of all the officials from Greece. Karadzic held a neutral speech leaving the
decision to the members of Parliament, who formally did not reject the plan, but
decided to organize a referendum on that issue. The result was the same.
Milosevic responded with sanctions against the Bosnian Serbs, trying to ease the
international pressure on his country.
After the rejection of the Vance-Owen Peace Plan, Warren Christopher
went to Europe to engage the allies in a more determined approach toward the
Bosnian Crisis. Christopher suggested four possible ways to continue dealing
with the Bosnian crisis: (1) increased sanctions, (2) an enforced cease-fire, (3)
air strikes, and (4) lifting the arms embargo. 61 The United States administration
favored the fourth option, but the Europeans still did not think that the Vance-
Owen Peace Plan had failed. Soon, The French tried to pass the United Nations
resolution but the Americans issued a statement that Secretary Christopher was
discussing other measures in Europe. Obviously, the United States moved on a
different track. The Europeans did not recognized that the new American
administration, unlike Bush's administration, was no longer willing to cede the
leading role in the Bosnian Crisis to them. After the European policy failed, the
United States tried a different approach.
In those days, the United States started new diplomatic initiatives with
France, the United Kingdom, and Russia. The new policy should have been
announced on May 22, 1993, but the whole story was announced the day before
in the New York Times under the huge title: "United States and Russia Agree on
Strategy Accepting Serbian Gains for Now." David Owen depicted these events
as "depressing from the European Community viewpoint, jubilant from Pale,
despairing from Sarajevo and cynical from Belgrade ... It was bizarre and, for me
personally, exasperating that the United States, who had been against the
Vance-Owen Peace Plan map for favoring the ethnic cleansing, was now
advocating a map that allowed the Serbs to keep more territory. " 62
The "containment" policy was introduced as the "Joint Action Plan" by the
United States, France, Russia, the UK and Spain (temporary member of the
Security Council at that time) on May 22, 1993. The Joint Action Plan was aimed
toward sealing the Bosnian borders to prevent incursions or military support from
neighboring states and establishing six safe areas. The Muslims were shocked
and immediately rejected the plan, but the Serbs cheered the plan "as the first
sober public statement by the West." 63
All three sides recognized the importance of the new policy, which
basically allowed them to keep as much land as they could conquer. Izetbegovic
61 David Owen, Balkan Odyssey (New York: Harcourt Brace and Company, 1995), p. 160.
62 Ibid., p.169.
63 Laura Silber and Allan Little, Yugoslavia: Death Of A Nation (TV Books, Inc., distributed by
Penguin USA, 1996), p.289.
said that the world did not leave the Muslims too much of a choice. 64 In spite of
the fact that the mediators tried to induce the implementation of the Vance-Owen
Peace Plan at least among the Muslims and the Croats and push them toward
mutual negotiations, these efforts were overtaken by the events on the ground.
In Central Bosnia, Croats were pushed from Travnik, Bugojno, and Fojnica, while
Gornji Vakuf and Novi Travnik were split in half. Croats in Central Bosnia were
pushed into several small enclaves. The largest enclave was Novi Travnik- Vitez-
Busovaca, which was later separated from the enclave of Kiseljak-Kresevo (and
part of the Fojnica district). Small Croatian pockets remained around the cities of
Zepce, Vares, several Croatian villages in the north (close to city of Doboj), the
so-called Usora enclave, south of the city of Brcko, the so-called Ravne-Brcko
enclave, and several villages close to Konjic in Herzegovina.
The Joint Action Plan reestablished the close cooperation between the
United States and the major European allies, but it also brought about division
inside the European Community. Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and other
European countries resented the United Kingdom, France, and Spain in their
abolishing the Maastricht principles of "Common Foreign and Security Policy."
This new division would affect future diplomatic efforts to find a peace solution
for the conflict in the former Yugoslavia.
64 Ibid., p.289.
C. A UNION OF THREE REPUBLICS
After the introduction of the "Containment" policy, mediators faced the
logical question: "What kind of durable peace solution could be achieved with the
containment policy?" Apparently the most powerful nations in the world rejected
any kind of serious peace-making intervention in Bosnia and left the warring
sides (now three of them) to find a military equilibrium among themselves, i.e. to
fight until they were exhausted. In a situation when all three sides are fighting
each other, a three-part separation seemed to be the logical solution. That did
not necessarily mean the immediate carve-up of Bosnia between Serbia,
Croatia, and the Bosnian Muslims, but in the long run, it could be expected.
Realizing that, the mediators tried to arrange a constitutional agreement,
which would enable the creation of a Muslim Republic in Bosnia-Herzegovina, or
in the future, a viable independent Muslim state. The starting point was that
there would be no viable Muslim State without access to the sea to the south,
and to the river Sava to the north. Access to the sea for the Muslims was
possible only if Croats gave some territory on the coast and access to the river
Sava was possible if the Serbs gave up the city of Brcko to the north. The
Muslims had moral grounds in claiming the city of Brcko, which had been
predominantly a Muslim city before the war, 65 but they never lived on the coast.
The city of Neum was the only Bosnian territory on the coast, but it was
65 According to the census of 1991, there were 44 per cent of Muslims, 25 per cent of Croats, and
21 per cent of Serbs in Brcko before the war.
predominantly a Croatian city. 66 Besides that, the coast in the Neum-KIek Bay
was not suitable for building a major port for the Bosnian Muslim Republic, and
the only solution was to press the Croats to give up some territory on the coast.
That meant redrawing borders between the former Yugoslav republics.
In the middle of June of 1993, Owen and Thorvald Stoltenberg, who
replaced Cyrus Vance, met several times with Milosevic, Tudjman, Izetbegovic,
Karadzic, and Boban and these meetings established the basic principles for the
next three peace plans for Bosnia: Union of three Republics, the EU Action Plan,
and the Contact Group Plan. During the negotiations about the EU Action Plan,
the United States also sponsored the establishment of a Muslim-Croat
Federation. All these plans (including the Federation) dealt with the partitioning
of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which would give the contiguous territory to the Serbian
Republic in Bosnia. In some documents these plans for the three Republics
were called the Owen-Stoltenberg Plans, but David Owen himself called it the
At the end of June of 1993, the EC troika unwillingly accepted the fact that
the Vance-Owen plan was dead. But, the old problem, i.e. the division of
territory, had not disappeared with the new proposals. After a series of
meetings, in the beginning of July, mediators got support in Belgrade and Zagreb
for the Muslim republic that would have comprised 30 per cent of Bosnian
66 According to the census of 1 991 , there were only 5 per cent Muslims in the district of Neum,
but in the city less than 1 per cent.
territory. Sarajevo would be put under United Nations protection and Mostar
under the European Community administration. This was a serious offer and the
mediators rushed to explain all the details to the European Community Foreign
Ministers in Brussels. Izetbegovic stated that he could accept a cooperative
solution for Bosnia, although it was difficult, for it effectively meant ethnic
division. But, he was ready to negotiate in this direction.
As the talks progressed, the fighting on the ground intensified. The
Serbian offensive at Mt. Igman almost stalled the negotiations. The West
threatened bombing. The siege of Sarajevo continued, but nothing really
happened. The Serbs withdrew and the United Nations soldiers took their
positions, releasing troops needed for fighting in other areas.
During the summer, the plan was almost completed, but some European
countries refused to back it. The German and Dutch Foreign Ministers claimed
that the plan was not in conformity with the London Conference principles since it
accepted that territory taken by force would remain in Serb hands. 67
At the end of August, the Parliament of the Republic of Srpska voted to
accept the plan, while the Muslim Parliament voted unanimously only to continue
negotiations. Izetbegovic wanted all the territory in Eastern Bosnia that was
predominantly Muslim before the war returned, and he wanted access to the sea
in Neum. He accused the international community of pushing for the plan that
67 Ibid., p.213.
required the surrender of law to coercion and he could not accept such a
solution. Bosnian Croats voted for the plan (see Figure 3).
A Union of Three Republics
';•:-:-;■; Sara|ovo District UN Administration
— — Mcstof EU Administration
Zopa -Gorazde link road which Is part
o* lh£> Muslim majority republic
Source: David Owen, Balkan Odyssey (New York: Harcourt
Brace and Company, 1996), p.218.
All contested territories became terrible battlefields. The bloodiest war
was in Central Bosnia where Muslim forces encircled Croatian enclaves. Using
their numerical advantage, Muslim forces squeezed the Croats into their pockets
and they were slowly gaining Bosnian Croat territory. Isolated Croatian pockets
in Central Bosnia even established some cooperation with Serbs in order to
survive. But, at the same time Muslims did not attack Croatian enclaves on the
north, because that territory was not contested. That territory would remain in
the Muslim Republic. In the south in Herzegovina, Muslim forces tried to break
through toward the sea but the Croats checked them at the village of Buna
(south of Mostar). The Croats were exposed to international pressure to be
more cooperative in giving up territory to the Muslim Republic. The pro-Muslim
media accused the Republic of Croatia of sending 30.000 68 troops to Bosnia,
which every military expert knew was nonsense. Such large numbers of troops
would mean a strategic change 69 of the military equilibrium and it would give a
significant advantage to Croatian forces on the battlefield. Actually, the Bosnian
Croats suffered from the lack of men, and slowly lost ground. Mediators brokered
a Muslim-Croat cease-fire on September 14, 1993. It did not last longer than few
At that stage of the Muslim-Croat war, the Muslims had no wish to stop
fighting the Croats. They expected to gain Croatian territory by military means.
The problem was the territory controlled by the Bosnian Serbs. The Muslim
tactics toward the Serbs were different. At one time, Izetbegovic even offered
Bosnian Serbs free secession if they conceded more territory, but the Serbs
68 Laura Silber and Alan Little, Yugoslavia: Death Of A Nation (TV Books, Inc., distributed by
Penguin USA, 1996), p.320.
69 30,000 additional troops would increase the Bosnian Croat forces to more than 50 per cent. In
that case, they would reach 80,000 troops which was the size of the forces of the Bosnian Serbs.
refused. 70 The Croats refused the idea of a bilaterally negotiated secession,
because it could establish an unpleasant precedent for the occupied Croatian
The negotiations about a Union of three Bosnian Republics negatively
influenced the internal relations among Bosnian Muslims. A group surrounding
Prime Minister Silajdzic opposed the idea of creating three ethnic republics, and
pleaded for a unitary state. He refused to sign the provisions of the agreement
that would authorize a referendum on secession within two years. Later, his
conflict with Izetbegovic escalated and he established his own political party.
On September 18, all key players in the Bosnian crisis met on British
aircraft carrier "Invincible," and tried to negotiate a solution. But, the problem
remained the same: The Serbs did not cede the land for the Muslims in Eastern
Bosnia. The Muslims demanded four per cent more of the land, but the Serbs
were not ready to cede it. Izetbegovic left the decision to the Muslim Parliament,
which turned it down. Even Izetbegovic changed his mind. On September 22,
he stated in the Herald Tribune that "he was not personally inclined toward the
proposal", a position diametrically opposed to the one he had adopted before. 71
"The Muslims had clearly chosen to continue with the war, believing that
70 David Owen, Balkan Odyssey (New York: Harcourt Brace and Company, 1995), p. 21 5.
71 Ibid., p.220.
sanctions would soften up the Serbs and, on the advice of their military
commanders, that they could defeat the Croats in Central Bosnia ," 72
On October 3, eighteen Americans were killed in Somalia. This incident
would have a strong influence on the United States political attitudes toward the
United Nations and the Bosnian crisis.
D. THE EU ACTION PLAN
The fears of a humanitarian crisis that could happen during the next winter
of 1993/94 shifted the public mood in the West toward the peace agreement that
was offered on the "Invincible." Even Germany and the Netherlands were ready
to back the Bosnian Union of Three Republics. The realities of war prevailed
and it was clear that many of the principles of international justice would have to
be put aside.
In late October of 1993, the United States again criticized the United
Kingdom and France for their refusal to lift the arm embargo for Bosnia. The
short-lived unity of the allies achieved by the Joint Action Plan in May of 1993
vanished. In early November of 1993, the European Union (the former
European Community) took a more decisive approach to the Bosnian crisis. On
November 7, the French and German Foreign Ministers, Alain Juppe and Klaus
Kinkel, issued a letter to the President of the Foreign Affairs Council, in which
they demanded 3 per cent more land for a Muslim Republic, so that the republic
72 Ibid, p.221.
could cover at least one third of Bosnia-Herzegovina. In return they proposed
the relief of sanctions to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, i.e. Serbia and
Montenegro. This was bargaining like at a farmers' market. The Muslims had
demanded four per cent, but the European Union was to support 3.33 per cent.
Mediators estimated that Europe was fed up with Bosnia, and the parties should
be pushed toward a settlement. Europe was supporting the Muslims' claim for
more land, but further warring could alienate the European Union. The United
States was not happy with the Franco-German proposal for lifting the sanctions
against Serbia. They were also not pleased with the peace agreement in
Bosnia. They were not ready to press the Muslims to accept such an
The Muslim-Croat war reached its climax. The Muslim Army (ABIH)
conquered the Croatian enclave created around the predominantly Croatian town
of Vares. The Croats were pushed to a small territory around the village of
Dastansko, which was squeezed between the Muslims and the Serbs. The
relations between the Muslims and the Croats were so bad that, unlike the Serbs
and Muslims during the negotiations in Geneva, the Croats and Muslims did not
want to negotiate directly. In the latter part of 1993, the Government in Sarajevo
was a Muslim puppet. Izetbegovic convinced the world that he had the right to
legitimately speak for all the Bosnian people. As David Owen said: "The
collective Presidency as a democratic body was by the autumn of 1993 no longer
a reality. The real choices were made elsewhere. We were in effect dealing with
a Muslim government for a predominantly Muslim people." 73
The other problem was in intra-Muslim relations. In reality no one was
sure that the Muslims were ready to make an agreement with 3-4 per cent more
land. Mediators recognized that lack of cohesion in the Muslim leadership and
that damaged or at least slowed the negotiation process several times.
On November 29, the parties were invited to a new round of negotiations.
The European Union expected the Serbian side to make new concessions, the
Croats to assure the access to the sea, and the Muslims to confirm satisfaction
with four per cent more land. But, the Muslims changed over time. They could
be satisfied with four per cent more territory, but Izetbegovic demanded the
return of conquered territories in the East and Muslim sovereignty over Neum.
The Croats were ready to offer the village of Tasovcici near Capljina on the
Neretva River as an outlet to the sea, but the Muslims refused it and demanded
sovereignty over Neum again (see Figure 4).
Apparently, the Muslims felt no pressure and wanted to continue fighting
the Bosnian Croats, pursuing more concessions. The President of Croatia
offered territorial compensation in which the Muslims could get access to the sea
in southern Croatia. But, the Muslims refused that offer, which was a negative
sign suggesting they wanted to continue fighting. There was some progress on
the map, and Muslim could get 31 .3 per cent of the land at the moment.
73 Ibid., p.50.
The European Union pressed the mediators to find a solution with 33.3
per cent of the land and access to the sea for the Muslims. The lure should have
been NATO's air coverage in the implementation of the agreement. But the
Muslims wanted NATO troops on the ground, and that was something that the
European Union could not offer without the United States.
EU Action Plan
EU Action Plan for Bosnian
Muslim majority republic
comprising over one-third
of territory of Bosnia and
Area 1 4.2%
Area 2 65.4%
Area 3 24.6%
Area 4 1.4%
Area 5 1.3%
Sarajevo district 3.1%
Total for Muslim majority republic, inducting
Sarajevo District on a 2-1 basis, = 33.56%
Source: David Owen, Balkan Odyssey (New York: Harcourt
Brace and Company, 1995), p.237.
On December 20, the Croatian government sent a letter to the European
Union ambassadors in Croatia that it would never support any agreement which
did not ensure at least 17.5 per cent 74 of the land for Bosnian Croats and under
no circumstances could Vitez and Busovaca be given up. On the secession
issue, the Croatian government considered that it had to be tri-lateral agreement.
The next day, Izetbegovic and Tudjman met in Geneva prior to a long
Serb-Croat meeting. Serbs and Croats agreed to put aside their own territorial
disputes and find 33.3% of land for the Muslims. That was the moment when the
ratio 49 - 51 was established. In all later negotiation, this ratio was kept; 49 per
cent of Bosnia for the Serbs and the rest for the Muslims and Croats. In return,
they refused the United Nations and European Union administration in Sarajevo
and Mostar, respectively. The access to the Sava River in Brcko was still
unresolved because the Bosnian Serbs withdrew their concession on this issue.
The other problems were also over the size of the corridors in Eastern Bosnia
and the sovereignty over Neum. The Muslims were even ready to split Sarajevo
and Mostar if they were satisfied with the other territories. As far as access to
the sea was concerned, the European Union preferred the "Invincible" issue, but
the United States delegate, Charles Redman warned that Muslim feelings toward
Neum should not be underestimated. Although the parties made significant
progress, the final solution was not achieved.
David Owen stated that Muslims should have settled. They could have
gotten a viable Muslim Republic and in the future an independent Muslim state.
It would be the most stable solution if accepted by all parties. Since the Republic
74 That was the percentage of Bosnian Croats in overall population of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
of Croatia and Bosnia, Croats were under strong international pressure and with
the Serbs already under sanctions, the Muslims hoped they could achieve more.
On January 8, the Germans hosted a Muslim-Croat meeting. The main
issue was Neum. The Muslims were ready to recognize Croatian sovereignty
over the road that passed through Neum if they could have the town.
Administration of the European Union in Neum was also one of the solutions
offered during the negotiations which was not implemented. Finally, the Croats
offered the Muslims the Treaty of Cooperation, which was drawn on the joint
Muslim-Croat declaration of September 14, 1993 (cessation of hostilities), but
the Muslims refused. They asked to resolve the details in the dispute before
signing such a treaty. The Muslims did not want to enter into some definite
commitments and they kept all options open. They were focused on conquering
territory in Central Bosnia from the Bosnian Croats, while putting the Serbs aside
for the moment. There was no significant progress at that meeting, but it opened
new possibilities for resolving the Muslim-Croat war - creation of one joint entity.
Later, the United States delegate to the International Conference for the Former
Yugoslavia, exploited this idea and successfully brokered the establishment of a
Muslim-Croat Federation. But, at that moment the Muslims were still too
confident and showed little or no will to cooperate. But, in early 1994, the Croats
made a tactical move.
On January 18, 1994, there was no special progress on the issues
connected with Bosnia-Herzegovina, but Tudjman and Milosevic agreed to
establish permanent offices of the Croatian and Serbian governments in
Belgrade and Zagreb, respectively. Now the Muslims faced a possible Serbo-
Croat alliance. There were already some signs of cooperation between Bosnian
Croats in the surrounded Croatian pockets and Bosnian Serbs, 75 but if it was
formalized the Muslims could be squeezed into living in the Tuzla and Zenica
districts. The United States recognized the possible consequences for the
Muslims immediately and in early 1994 started pressing Muslims and Croats to
come to terms. Many observers called the reestablished Muslim-Croat alliance a
"marriage of convenience," but it would be more appropriate to call it a "shotgun
75 Strange alliances appeared on the field without knowledge of the central leaderships all the
time. One such case of Muslim-Serb cooperation in the Mostar area was described in Owen's
Balkan Odyssey on page 350.
VI. "A MARRIAGE OF CONVENIENCE" 1994-1997
A. A FREE WILL FEDERATION OR "A SHOTGUN WEDDING?"
After the Muslim-Croat war, the humanitarian situation deteriorated quickly
not only in Sarajevo, but also in Bosnia as a whole. No one maintained the
"Diamond Route" or "Salvation Road" that was passing through the mountain
ranges of Vran and Cvrsnica and further in Central Bosnia and soon they
became useless. Besides that, both sides established numerous checkpoints,
which additionally slowed the delivery of goods. Ethnic hatred escalated so
much so, that on many occasions civilians tried to prevent the delivery of food to
the other side, usually by blocking and looting the humanitarian convoys meant
for their enemies. Apparently, the real winners in this war were the Serbs.
The public and Congress's 76 pressure on the Clinton administration grew
again in the latter part of 1993 and early 1994. The American representative at
the International Conference for Former Yugoslavia, Charles Redman, got new
instructions 77 on how to deal with the Bosnian crisis. The United States was
horrified with the possibility of a humanitarian and military catastrophe that could
hit the Bosnian Muslims, especially in the light of the news about a growing Serb-
76 In January, Congress voted for lifting the arms embargo for Bosnian Muslims. Ibid., p.253.
77 Ibid., p.251.
Croat cooperation. 78 The delivery of weapons to the Bosnian Muslims was
significantly reduced after the Muslim-Croat war broke out. The "containment"
policy that prolonged the war, gave the Muslims the chance to achieve some
territorial gains by military means, but could eventually fail. Rumors about
weapons deliveries from Iran only increased the pressure on the administration.
Therefore, the administration decided to press the Croats and the Muslims to
renew their alliance.
The idea of a joint Muslim-Croat entity was rather old, and it appeared for
the first time in September 1993 when both sides signed the peace agreement
and committed themselves to renew cooperation. But, at the same time the
European Community and the United Nations' mediators were pursuing the idea
of a union of three independent Bosnian republics, and logically the sides did not
show too much interest in negotiating a joint entity with Redman and a separate
entity with Owen and Stoltenberg at the same time. From September 1993, the
Americans were pushing the sides to come to an agreement but made a little
progress, until it became obvious in late December that even the EU "Action
Plan" would fail. The United States applied additional pressure on the leadership
of the Republic of Croatia by exposing the Croats to international criticism,
because of their support to the Bosnian Croats. The Security Council of the
78 Officially both sides were still at war and cooperation was on the local level only, where the
Croats living in pockets (squeezed between the Muslims and the Serbs) paid for safe passage via
the Serbian territory, in food or fuel. One Bosnian Franciscan on trial in The Hag obtained a good
account on these issues. <http://www.hina.hr/hina/arhiva/Nov.03.1998/cc.hb033460.4ix.html>
[Access November 11, 1998]
United Nations was drafting a Resolution, which would condemn "the Croatian
military intervention in Bosnia."
In December of 1993 the leader of the Bosnian Croats, Mate Boban, was
ousted, and on January 7, 1994 in Bonn, the Croats offered the Muslims the fully
drafted treaty on Cooperation. But, the Muslims refused to accept this treaty,
because they felt encouraged by Iranian weapons deliveries and showed no
desire to stop fighting. When the Croats turned toward the Serbs and signed an
agreement on establishing diplomatic offices on January 17, 1994, the United
States immediately applied additional pressure via the United Nations Security
Council. On February 3, the United Nations Security Council passed the
Presidential Statement, which demanded "that the Republic of Croatia withdraw
all elements of the Croatian Army, along with military equipment and fully respect
the territorial integrity of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina." It also
expressed the UN's "readiness to consider other serious measures if the
Republic of Croatia failed to put an immediate end to all forms of interference in
the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina." In all probability, because the Croats
showed their desire to cooperate in Bonn, the United States did not pass the
Resolution, which was a stronger form of diplomatic communication, but passed
the Presidential Statement. The Presidential Statement was more than a clear
warning that the Croats had to make additional efforts and offer the Muslims
more concessions if the agreement on cooperation was to be signed.
After the market square bombing in Sarajevo on February 5, 1994 and the
successful NATO ultimatum to the Bosnian Serbs, the Americans were even
more determined to halt the Muslim-Croat war. On February 16, the American
Ambassador to the Republic of Croatia, Peter Galbraith, proposed to the
Croatian President the idea of a Federation between the Muslim and Croat
entities. Above all, for the protection of the Bosnian Croats, the Muslim-Croat
Federation was to establish a confederation with the Republic of Croatia. The
idea was accepted and after a small amount of pressure on the Muslim side, 79
the Americans summoned the Bosnian and the Croatian Foreign Ministers to
Washington to negotiate the agreement on the Muslim-Croat Federation. In less
than two weeks, Redman, Galbraith and the American Ambassador to Bosnia-
Herzegovina, Victor Jakovich, brokered the Agreement of the Federation of
Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Washington Agreement on the Federation of
Bosnia and Herzegovina was signed on March 2, 1994. The final deal on the
constitutional principle for Federation was reached in Vienna on March 13, 1994.
On March 18, Presidents Tudjman, Izetbegovic, the new Bosnian Croat leader,
Kresimir Zubak, and Prime Minister Silajdzic signed a draft of the constitution of
the Muslim-Croat Federation, and Presidents Tudjman and Izetbegovic signed a
79 Some preliminary United Nations reports claimed that the mortar shell might have been
launched from the Muslim army side, and at that moment Muslim politicians became much more
cooperative. David Owen, Balkan Odyssey (New York: Harcourt Brace and Company, 1995), pp.
letter of intent on the Confederation between the Republic of Croatia and the
Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
There were some changes in the first draft of the agreement. The
Federation would consist of several Muslim (now called Bosniac 80 ) and Croat
cantons, not incorporated in the Muslim and Croat Republics. The cantons
would not have national, but geographical names. In Central Bosnia and the
Neretva River Valley, there would be mixed Bosniac-Croat cantons. These two
cantons would have a special ruling government with strict national parity. Other
cantons would be predominantly Bosniac or Croat, but the districts in those
cantons would have the right to lead cultural and educational policies depending
on the wishes of the people that lived in those districts. The parties renewed
their military alliance and expressed their intention to fight until all of the
predominantly Bosniac and Croat territories in Bosnia and Herzegovina were
Apparently, this was the weakest point in this treaty. After two years of
"ethnic cleansing" it was not clear what the predominantly Bosniac and Croat
territories were. If the Bosniacs and Croats had been able to liberate their ethnic
territory, they would have done it one year earlier. On the other hand, the
international community did not express their intent to roll back the Serbian
territorial conquest. Soon, the Federal partners realized that the international
80 The word Bosniacs refers to Bosnian Muslims only. This new/old name was probably chosen
to stress their right to Bosnia and to avoid confusion with "Muslim" in the religious and national
community would not even take into consideration their demands for more than
51 per cent of the territory. But, even with the disputes resolved between the
Bosniacs and the Croats, and the 51 per cent of territory that had been allocated
to them before, the international community still was not able to make a peace
agreement for Bosnia-Herzegovina. Apparently, there were some other
disputable points in the Bosnian conflict other than territory still waiting to be
B. THE CONTACT GROUP AND ITS PEACE PLAN
The Bosniac-Croat Federation certainly made negotiation on the peace
plan for Bosnia easier, because it was not necessary to determine a border
between Bosniacs and Croats, only between the Serbian entity and the
Federation. The Serbs refused the American offer to participate in the
Federation, and their Parliament voted for independence of their Republic of
Srpska on March 22, leaving no doubt what their intentions were. Apparently,
having the Bosniac-Croat Federation established, the international community
had to make a new peace plan for Bosnia.
Four months of cease-fire expired in April, and the situation deteriorated
again. The Serbs attacked the United Nations safe area in Gorazde. They
realized that a peace solution could soon be found, and they wanted to have
"clean" and contiguous territorial lines in Eastern Bosnia. On the other hand, the
sense. The word Bosnians refers to all three Bosnian nationalities (Bosniacs, Bosnian Serbs, and
Serbs thought that this "demonstration of power" would soften the Bosniacs and
they would be more cooperative. But they did not count on such a decisive
reaction from the international community. On April 16, the NATO planes
bombed Serbian positions, and the situation was calmed down.
Successful Bosniac-Croat negotiations on the Federation led by American
diplomats proved that the United Nations' and the European Union's cooperation
in the Yugoslav crisis was not enough. Apparently, the United States and if
possible Russia, should have been involved in the International Conference on
the Former Yugoslavia from the beginning. But, that was not an attractive
solution for the Americans. They were not ready to deal with all twelve European
nations and they preferred a much closer circle. Any working group would have
to contain British and French representatives, which could coordinate activities
on the ground and in the United Nations Security Council. Germany was
important as a link toward the Croats, Russia toward the Serbs. The idea was to
establish a Contact Group mechanism similar to that which was used in 1977
over Namibia. The representatives of the major European powers, the United
States and Russia, as well as Owen and Stoltenberg met for the first time in
London on April 26, 1994. Later, they traveled from capitol to capitol of the
countries that were members of the Contact Group.
During May of 1994, the Contact Group established its policy toward the
Bosnian crisis. They accepted the division on the 51-49 per cent basis, and as a
reward for the Serbs phasing out, lifting of the United Nations sanctions. The
Contact Group developed its own map which was to be presented to all sides.
Even the Russians did not object too much. The United States' representative
turned down any possibility of imposing the Contact Group solution against the
wishes of the parties. The situation was pretty much the same as before. But,
from an outside perspective, this group bore much more credibility than the
International Conference on the Former Yugoslavia. On May 25, the Contact
Group started meeting representatives of the Bosnian parties, presenting them
its proposals (see Figure 4).
The Contact Group lacked the determination to press the Bosnian parties
to accept the plan. Rhetoric remained almost the same as in the International
Conference on the Former Yugoslavia. The Group did not agree on the ideas of
applying selective force on those that did not comply with their proposals. Their
plan was offered "a la carte" for almost one year. The problem for the Group
was that it continued to work on the principle of the least common denominator,
and it could not bring fresh new ideas to the table. That was why the Group did
not plan any additional measures against those parties who did not comply with
the plan or rewards for those who accepted the plan. More or less everything
stayed the same as in the International Conference on the Former Yugoslavia.
At first the Bosnian Serbs rejected the map accusing the Contact Group of
constructing the map intentionally in a way that the Serbs had to reject it. Later,
under strong pressure from Russia and Milosevic, they accepted the map, but
refused the constitutional principles. They accepted the plan as a basis for
further negotiations. Regarding sanctions, their position was - that the sanctions
had to be lifted first and then they would offer peace. During August, the
Bosnian Serbs even organized a referendum on that issue, but the result was
expected - rejection.
Contact Group Plan
On basis of 2-1
Source: David Owen, Balkan Odyssey (New York: Harcourt Brace
and Company, 1995), pp.281
In spite of all the humiliation the Group underwent from the Bosnian
Serbs, the Contact Group did not respond. In effect, it only deepened the
differences between Russians and Americans. Americans thought it was time
for "lift and strike" while the Russians opposed that. Apparently, it was up to the
parties on the ground to find the final military and political equilibrium that would
create the necessary conditions for a peace plan.
The biggest achievement of this Contact Group plan was the final break
between Milosevic and the leadership of the Bosnian Serbs. Milosevic was tired
of the sanctions, and considered the plan acceptable. He sealed the borders
between Serbia-Montenegro and the Bosnian Serbs, leaving no doubt of his
position on this issue.
The Contact Group plan did not have any significant effect on the Bosniac-
Croat relations. The Federal partners were technically allies, but their relations
were still rather "cold." The war wounds were still fresh and there was little or no
progress in the implementation of the Washington Agreement. Regarding the
implementation of the Washington Agreement, interestingly, the soldiers were
ahead of politicians.
In the autumn and winter of 1994, the military situation around Bihac in
Western Bosnia became rather complicated. The Bosnian Serb Army and the
Croatian Serb Army tried to cut the enclave into halves and to erase that last
large Muslim enclave in the contiguous Serbian territory from Croatia to Serbia.
The survival of this enclave was of strategic importance not only to Bosnia, but
also to Croatia. Its position could be compared with the giant stronghold gained
by the airborne operation deep in Serb-held territory. The enclave was already
exhausted with the constant warfare during the last three years and survived only
because of the strong determination of its people in Bihac and the risky airlift
from Croatia. Relations between HVO and ABIH were generally good in that
area, because these relations were not a contested territory between Bosniacs
and Croats. Relations between the two militaries were somewhat soured after
the Commander of Croatian Forces in that area, General Santic, was kidnapped
and executed by the Bosniacs Military Police. The Croatian Forces were much
weaker and they did not open a second front. After all, both sides were under
constant attack from the Serbian positions around Bihac.
After the deterioration of the situation in the Bihac area, the late Croatian
Minister of Defense, Gojko Susak, publicly announced a decision to intervene in
the case of the fall of Bihac, "Bihac was of strategic importance for Republic of
Croatia and there was no way to prevent us." Croatia's position was not
definitive at that moment, because Croatia was in the middle of discussions
about future defense cooperation with the United States. Susak and the Chief
of the General Staff of the Croatian Army, General Bobetko, visited the United
States on different occasions during the autumn of 1994, and they were
"persuaded" not to open a new battlefield in Croatia while Bosnia was still
boiling. In return the United States promised to act through the United Nations
The United States pressed Britain and France to accept the NATO air
strikes against Bosnian and Croatian Serbs, because they were violating the
United Nations Resolution by attacking the Safe Area of Bihac. Indeed, NATO
attacked the airport of Udbina in the Serb-held part of Croatia, because of the
violation of the no-fly zone over Bosnia. On the second occasion NATO attacked
the position of Serbian SAM-2 and SAM-6 air defense. But British and French
commanders of the United Nations troops in Bosnia, General Michel Rose and
General Bernard de Lapresle, rapidly called off the air strikes infuriating
Americans, Bosniacs, and Croats.
Having the American action fail, Croatia got tacit approval to act in order
to protect its own interests. The decision was made to act south of Bihac, in the
mountain range of Dinara on the Croatian-Bosnian border, drawing significant
Serbian forces from Bihac to the south. Deeper in Bosnian territory, HVO - the
Bosnian Croat Army and ABIH - the Bosniac Armed Forces, acted together for
the first time in the area of Kupres. For the sake of truth, it must be said that this
was not a joint operation, but that Bosniacs and Croats just coordinated their
efforts to a certain extent. As one HVO commander said, "At least we shoot in
the same direction...." It was the beginning of a renewed alliance, and the
beginning of an operation for the liberation of Croatia and a big chunk of Bosnian
territory in the West of the country.
In the beginning of 1995, Croatian President Franjo Tudjman announced
his intention to cancel the mandate of the United Nations troops on Croatian
territory, if there was no progress on reintegration of that territory by peaceful
means. Trying to avoid further complications, the international community
pressed Croatia not to start a new war. 81 The Croatian problem was that the
United Nations' troops were supposed to secure the return of Croatian refuges to
occupied territory, but during the three years of United Nations presence in
Croatia not a single refugee returned to his home. With the help of the EU
mediator in 1994, the Republic of Croatia and the Serbian rebels started talks
about economic cooperation but there was no significant progress. Under
International pressure, the Serbs accepted the opening of a major highway
between Zagreb and Eastern Croatia, but on several occasions they used that
highway for blackmail purposes by opening and closing it at will. Croatian
patience did not last long.
The situation in Bosnia was deteriorating too. On May 1, 1995, the official
"New Year," the four-month cessation of hostilities in Bosnia ended too.
Sarajevo was under mortar fire again. The Serbs were violating the United
Nations Safe Area again and Bosniacs called for NATO air strikes. The Serbs
even seized the heavy weapons from the United Nations secured stockpiles.
After a bitter quarrel between America and the Secretary General of the United
Nations, Buthros-Buthros Ghali, NATO attacked the Serbian positions around
Sarajevo on May 24, and 26. The Serbs responded by taking United Nations'
personnel as hostages. There was confusion among the chief powers involved
81 On February 4, 1995 Croatian and American Defense Ministers, Susak and Perry, and CJCS
General Shalikasvili met in Munich. "Perry told Susak that we [the United States] continue to feel
that his government was making a mistake... General Shali warned him that the JCS
assessment of the balances of forces was far more pessimistic than Zagreb's" Richard
Holbrooke, To End a War (New York: Random House, Inc., 1998), p.62.
in this crisis. Part of the British Prime Minister's cabinet wanted to pull their
forces, while the French wanted to reinforce, and the Americans were looking for
other options. The United States Government realized that it had to take more
decisive steps to end the Bosnian war.
Simultaneously, with the creation of Rapid Reaction Forces for
reinforcement of UNPROFOR, NATO developed a secret operational plan "40-
104" for withdrawal of the United Nations' troops from Bosnia. The United States
could not keep an intermediate position any longer, and they had to engage their
troops either in support of the withdrawal the United Nations troops or in the
implementation (imposition) of peace in Bosnia. The decision in favor of the
latter solution was probably made under pressure from Congress. Without a
decision, President Clinton's administration would enter the campaign of 1996
with empty hands in the area of foreign policy. Republican candidate Bob Dole
had already called for a much more radical solution. The humanitarian
catastrophe in Zepa and Srebrenica in the middle of July played into his hands,
and the administration had to act more decisively. On July 21 , Defense Ministers
of countries assisting with troops decided to defend Gorazde with all available
means. The War escalated into every corner of Bosnia.
On July 22, Presidents Tudjman and Izetbegovic met in Split, Croatia and
signed a formal military alliance between the Republic of Croatia and Bosnia-
Herzegovina. Croats just continued their action started in the winter of 1994 and
entered the Serb-held "Krajina" from the rear. The operation started on August
4, 1995. The Serbian mini-state of "Krajina" collapsed in less than four days.
The siege of Bihac was broken and an even larger, predominantly Serbian
region in Western Bosnia was left undefended and in danger. The balance of
power in the region was completely changed.
In late August of 1995, the Serbs bombed Sarajevo again. Heavy civilian
casualties outraged the whole world and NATO responded by bombing Serbian
positions. The Serbs were furious because of NATO attacks and their territorial
losses as well. During September and October of 1995, the Croatian Forces (HV
and HVO) together with the Bosniac forces on the flanks, pushed the Serbs
toward their stronghold city of Banja Luka. A large piece of Bosnian territory on
the West was under Croat-Bosniac control. In the meantime, the American
Government launched new a diplomatic initiative, drawn on a "more realistic"
approach and brokered a truce at the end of October of 1995. Everything was
ready for Dayton.
D. DAYTON AGREEMENT
At the beginning of August of 1995, the United States Government
reviewed 82 its policy toward Bosnia and created its own peace plan for the final
settlement in Bosnia. The plan consisted of seven points: (1) a comprehensive
peace settlement; (2) a three-way recognition among Bosnia, Croatia and
Serbia-Montenegro; (3) the lifting of sanctions against Serbia-Montenegro if a
82 Ibid., pp.73-74.
settlement was reached and an American-backed program to equip and train the
Federation forces; (4) reintegration of Eastern Slavonia into Croatia; (5) to stop
offensive operations; (6) a reaffirmation of the Contact Group Plan; and (7) a
regional economic recovery. The senior member of President Clinton's advisers
visited Europe and Russia seeking support for the plan, while the Chief of the
Department for European and Canadian Affairs, Richard Holbrooke, was to start
The plan was welcomed in Europe and in Russia with some small
objections on American military support to the Bosniac-Croat Federation. It
should not surprise anyone, because the United States basically committed itself
to engage in the implementation of the peace plan, which elated the Europeans,
and promised to lift sanctions imposed on Serbia-Montenegro, which satisfied
Holbrooke was shuttling between capitols in the former Yugoslavian
republics trying to persuade Presidents Tudjman, Milosevic, and Izetbegovic to
accept the American plan as a basis for the overall settlement between the
former Yugoslav republics. He found no opposition in Zagreb, which after the
collapse of "Krajina" was in the best position for negotiations. The situation
among the Bosniacs and the Serbs was different - they were divided as usual.
Izetbegovic wanted to negotiate for a single country but he was ready to
accept the importance of a Serbian autonomy. Prime Minister Silajdzic also
wanted to negotiate a single multi-ethnic country 83 but with a much stronger
central government. This division would cause a lot of problems and the West
would be frustrated during the negotiations, because it would not be clear what
the Bosniac's position was.
After their initial rejection, the Bosnian Serbs were exposed to strong
military and diplomatic pressure, and their Parliament decided to put their destiny
in Milosevic's hands. They gave him Power of Attorney to represent their
interests. It effectively meant that they accepted the negotiations, because
Milosevic had already accepted the Contact Group Plan almost one year earlier.
Holbrooke never tried to examine the position of the Bosnian Croats. In
his book, he did not explain who would defend the interests of the Bosnian
Croats, the Republic of Croatia or the Bosniacs. Entering the Federation with
Bosnians, Bosnian Croats lost their political influence and that created a lot of
frustration among them.
At the end of August of 1995, Holbrooke got the consent of all parties to
start negotiations. He still had to settle some staff details and to brief the
Europeans and some important Islamic countries. With the help of NATO air
strikes and several military defeats that the Serbs suffered in Western Bosnia,
Holbrooke refined the most important provisions of the future peace agreement
with Milosevic. The parties met first in Geneva on September 7, 1995 to confirm
83 Explaining Silajdzic's position on that issue Holbrooke said, "...although he [Silajdzic] referred
to the Croats with such animosity that I did not see how he could ever cooperate with them" Ibid.
their readiness to negotiate on the American principles, and later in New York on
September 26, the provision on a central government was agreed upon. In the
beginning of October all sides signed the cease-fire and the situation was ripe for
Negotiations began in Dayton almost one month later. There were
many issues on the table to negotiate: Eastern Slavonia, the Bosniac-Croat
Federation, a constitutional framework, elections, a three-person presidency, a
Bosnian Central Assembly, freedom of movement and the right of refugees to
return to their homes, compliance with the International War Crimes Tribunal,
and an International Police Force. Above all, the most difficult task to negotiate
was determining the internal borders between the Serbs and Bosniac-Croat
The negotiations over the Federation issue were handed over to German
diplomat Michael Steiner, who continued working with Bosniac and Croat
representatives in a working group. Milosevic and Tudjman negotiated directly
over Eastern Slavonia, but Milosevic insisted that the final agreement had to be
made on the field. During the next few days the Chief of President Tudjman's
office negotiated the so-called Erdut Agreement on the reintegration of Eastern
Slavonia into the Republic of Croatia. Milosevic was promised the phasing out
and lifting of sanctions after the initiation of an agreement. Negotiations
continued over the next twenty days but in several working groups. Most of the
problems were resolved in the first fifteen days, but when negotiators turned to
the maps it became clear just how large a gap still existed between all sides.
The crucial points were: Sarajevo, the Brcko and Posavina Corridor, Gorazde,
the Posavina pocket, Srebrenica and Zepa, and Bosanski Novi. There were
many other disputed areas but those were secondary.
The Dayton Agreement Map
Source: "Operation Joint Endeavor-Maps,"
< http://www.nato.int/maps/ifor/m960819q.qif > [Access December
During the last week of negotiations, there was significant progress
achieved on the majority of issues and it was necessary to just close the deal on
the maps. Bosnia-Herzegovina would be a single country with two entities, the
Republic of Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina (Bosniac-Croat).
There would be a central government with limited authority and regional
governments in the Federation and the Serbian Republic. Both entities would
keep their own military forces, while the Federation Forces would consist of two
components HVO and ABIH and their forces could be merged above the brigade
On November 20, during one negotiation-marathon, Silajdzic and
Milosevic cut the final deal. They negotiated only with Holbrooke present in the
room. Milosevic ceded to the Bosniacs control over the whole of Sarajevo, and
in return, to preserve the "sacred ratio" 51-49, Silajdzic ceded to the Serbs the
land that the Croatian troops conquered during their last offensive 84 in
September of 1995. The Croats felt as though they had been stabbed in the
back by the Bosniacs and refused the agreement. Then Holbrooke proposed a
redistribution of the "concessions" to the Serbs, to both the Bosniac and the
Croat sides, but surprisingly Izetbegovic refused it. It was time use the heavy
President Clinton was supposed call Izetbegovic and Tudjman to apply
pressure to both sides, the Croats and the Bosniacs, to redistribute the
"concessions" among themselves, but National Security Adviser Anthony Lake
opposed the call to Izetbegovic. During the conversation with President Clinton,
President Tudjman promised that the Croats would give up 3/4 of the land
needed to close the deal. It was up to Izetbegovic to offer the rest, but he
refused. Only one per cent of Bosnian land stood between peace and war, but
Izetbegovic was firm. Most importantly, this was not land under Bosniac control.
Christopher and Holbrooke pressed Izetbegovic, but in return he was asking for
the city of Brcko which was not even an issue before this.
His indecisiveness was threatening to destroy one more agreement.
Finally, President Tudjman convinced Milosevic to accept the independent
arbitration on the Brcko issue within one year and Izetbegovic accepted it. The
parties unofficially signed (initialed) the Dayton Peace Agreement 85 of November
21, 1995 (see Figure 6). The tough and painful process of its implementation on
the ground has yet to be done.
The division of labor in the implementation process was done during the
London Peace Implementation Conference 86 held on December 8-9, 1995. The
responsibility for the implementation of the military portion of the Agreement was
transferred to NATO and partly to OSCE (Organization for Security and
Cooperation in Europe), while the civilian part of the implementation was
transferred to the EU and partly to OSCE. The Agreement was officially signed
84 For more details see and dramatic moments on November 20 see Ibid. pp. 299-300.
85 <http://www.ohr.int/gfa/gfa-home.htm> [Access November 15, 1998].
86 <http://www.ohr.int/docu/d951208a.htm> [Access November 15, 1998].
in Paris on December 15, 1995 and its implementation started on December 20,
A special representative of the United States government carried out the
part of the Agreement that referred to the United States support of the Army of
the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Other countries (mostly Islamic) that
wanted to take part in this program donated money and weapons for the
Federation Forces. The Europeans did not want to be involved in this part of the
agreement, and they committed themselves to helping the economic
reconstruction of the Bosnian economy instead.
The implementation of the military portion of the Dayton Agreement on
the field went well, 87 but the negotiations on Sub-Regional Arms Control in
Vienna (the reduction of military potentials) led by the permanent representative
of the OSCE Chairman 88 lasted almost six months. The negotiations got stuck
because the Bosniac side, as the weakest side in the subregion insisted on the
least possible weapons quotas which infuriated the Serbs who still had the
largest stock-piles of weapons from the former Yugoslav Army. The agreement
of Sub-Regional Arms Control was signed in Florence on June 16, 1996 (after
the due date) and its implementation was more or less successful.
87 The code-name of that largest NATO operation in its history was Joint Endeavor. For more
details see <http://www.nato.int/docu/facts/sfor.htm> [Access November 15, 1998].
88 Norwegian General Kai Eide almost blew up negotiations in the very beginning by giving the
Croatian and Bosnian notification of weapons to the Serbs who were late in preparing their data.
Most of the problems during the beginning of implementation were in the
political area of the Agreement on both levels (entity and state). From the
beginning of implementation it was obvious that the present authorities in the
Republic of Srpska did not support the agreement, and they would try to delay its
implementation. In the end, they did not negotiate this agreement, and accepted
it only under the strong pressure of Milosevic.
The biggest concern of the international community was the situation in
the Bosniac-Croat Federation. The shaky confidence between the Federal
partners almost disappeared in Dayton after Silajdzic had exchanged "the
Croatian territory" with the Serbs. There were numerous incidents on the field
between the Bosniacs and Croats. During the first year of implementation, there
was no significant progress in returning refugees to their homes. 89 The
complicated situation in Mostar got worse after the unauthorized changes of
Protocol on Mostar signed in Dayton by the European Union administrator Hans
There were no significant problems on the military level of implementation
of the Agreement in the Bosniac-Croat Federation in the field, but the problems
arose with the implementation of the American-led program, "Train and Equip."
The Croatian side objected to the commencement of implementation of the
program before all political relations between the Federation and State were
89 The biggest problems were in Central Bosnia (Bugojno, Travnik, Jajce, etc.) and Herzegovina
(Mostar, Stolac) where the strongest fighting was between Bosniacs and Croats during the war of
clarified. The American military instructors began combat training of the Federal
troops even before the chain of command was defined and other political-military
problems were resolved. 90 The Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina had federal
troops before the Federal Ministry of Defense did, and before it became clear
who was Commander-in-Chief of its troops (Bosnian civil-military relations were
and still are extremely complicated).
There were significant problems during the definition of the Federal Law
on Defense. The Bosniac side wanted to achieve maximum integration
(unification) of forces in all areas that were not defined by the Agreement, while
the Croatian side preferred maximum independence. There were also problems
during the definition of the structure of the Federal forces, as well as the location
of the training center, the distribution of donated weapons, and so forth. In spite
of the many ill-defined relations between the two components of Federal forces,
the United States government pushed the sides to carry out the "Train and
Equip" program, because the situation in Bosnia was not stable and they wanted
to create Federal forces that could oppose a possible Serbian attack.
Relations on the political level were even worse. It was necessary to
define the Federal Constitution and other important laws, but the pattern of
relations between the Federal partners was the same. For everything that was
1993/94. Bosniacs and Croats were allies, and if they could not live together, the returning of
refugees in the Republic of Srpska would be even harder.
90 The training of Federal troops started before national security strategy and national military
strategies were brought. It was one of the typical Bosnian problems, the troops were created, but
their enemy was not defined.
not defined by the Dayton Agreement, both of the Federal partners had different
opinions and in general the Bosniac side wanted centralization as much as
possible, while the Croats wanted maximum decentralization and autonomy.
The political differences that had existed before the Washington Agreement
remained the same and apparently the partners did not believe each other. The
Federal Parliament was a big market where parties very often blocked each
other's laws because one or the other delayed to implement some other
agreements. Such behavior caused a lot of frustration on the side of the
international community. The debates in Parliament were so severe that it was
almost impossible to pass any of thousands of laws necessary. In spite of
arbitrations accepted by both sides, there was a little or no progress achieved.
A similar situation existed on the state level. The State Parliament could
not pass the necessary laws needed for the normal functioning of state.
Therefore, during several meetings of the Peace Implementation Council, the
role of High Representative of the international community was strengthened and
now he could impose any decision necessary for the functioning of the country
and the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina if both the Federal and the country
Parliament could not pass it. Some of his decisions were rather controversial
and it caused a lot of frustration among domestic politicians in Bosnia, who now
perceived him as a gubernator of the international community and Bosnia as its
The problem of poor Bosniac (Muslim)-Croat relations has remained
almost unchanged since the initiation of the Washington Agreement in February
of 1994. Apparently, both sides did not change their political position as far as
the administrative organization of Bosnia-Herzegovina was concerned. They
entered the war with different political goals and a different picture of Bosnia
which they fought for.
The Bosnian Croats, afraid of assimilation, prefer decentralization and, if
possible, organization of districts on ethnic principles, which they think could
assure their survival. They could control the basic institutions in these districts
such as the schools or the police force.
The Bosniacs are pushing for greater unification at all levels (Federation
and country) and they are even challenging the provisions of the Dayton
Agreement that would prevent that. The Bosniac leadership still remembers a
unitary Bosnia from Tito's time, and the key position that the Muslim nation held
then. It will take one whole generation of young Bosniacs to grow up in a divided
Bosnia to get used to the new position of their people. They have to get used to
a new situation in which the rules of behavior made in Sarajevo will not be
automatically applied to every corner of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Croats, who
do not have exclusive control over their parts of Bosnia, consider the
decentralization to be the key issue of Bosniac-Croat relations in the future.
This issue existed before the war, but it was not stressed because of a
much more serious threat from the Serbian side. The international community
(the European Community) opened the issue of administrative-territorial
organization of Bosnia-Herzegovina trying to appease the Serbs, but it only
intensified the rift between the Croats and the Muslims. Later, every subsequent
plan reflected the indulgence of the international community toward the Serbs,
convincing the Croats and the Muslims that aggression was not to be punished
and its was worthwhile.
The situation became extremely chaotic with the half-hearted American
involvement in the Yugoslav crisis. Occasionally the same messages were
received by all sides in the Yugoslav crisis from both the European Union and
the United States, but mostly the messages were completely different. Such
chaotic diplomacy prolonged the war and affected Muslim-Croat relations in the
worst possible way. A large portion of the responsibility for the Muslim-Croat war
lays with the international community and its inconsistent policy. 91
The introduction of the Containment Policy was one of the lowest points of
international diplomacy during the Yugoslav crisis. It showed that the policy of
the international community toward the Yugoslav crisis was only a set of half-
hearted, inconsistent decisions.
91 Figure 7 is a graphic presentation of the wavering policy of the International Community.
Wavering Policy Of The International Community
The UN membership of"
Bosnia, Croatia and
March 2, 1994 j
Sept. 14, 1993 j
The Contact Group Plan
^ A Union of
The EC Sanctions
The UN Arm Embargo
Supporf to unityof Yugoslavia^
Pro - Serb
Containment could have made sense if it were followed up by the lifting of
the arms embargo on all sides of the conflict. In that case, all sides could find
internal military and political equilibrium in Bosnia and within the whole region.
Muslims and Croats cannot be blamed for taking so much time to renew
their alliance. When their conflict escalated, the international community led a
dual-track negotiation that should have resolved the conflict. On the one side,
the EC and the United Nations were negotiating a comprehensive solution by
backing the partition, while the United States was trying, half-heartedly, to
resolve the Muslim-Croat Federation issue, which was in effect in total opposition
to the European partition policy (a Union of three Republics, the European Union
Action Plan, and the Contact Group Plan). Such a dual approach affected the
behavior of the Muslims and Croats. As long as the United States kept a low
profile in all European attempts to resolve the crisis, the Muslims and the Croats
were more inclined to accept the partition of Bosnia-Herzegovina. After the
United States took a more determined course, both sides changed their policy to
that of the United States and accepted the creation of a joint Bosniac-Croat
The whole negotiation process, led under the auspices of the International
Conference on the Former Yugoslavia, revealed the weakness of diplomacy
without muscle. Without the United States embarking on their policy, the
Europeans did not have the necessary (credible) force to push the sides involved
in the conflict over the threshold of reaching any agreement. The sides in the
conflict realized that they could play games with second-rate (European) powers
without any consequences. Someone always managed to avoid an agreement
for their own reasons. The Europeans lacked the force that would make
implementation of any peace plan possible. This automatically meant that every
plan they approved had a zero credibility rating in the eyes of the warring sides.
Although, it was much easier to negotiate after the Washington
Agreement, the situation was still not ripe enough for a comprehensive
settlement. This conflict lacked the strategic importance that would make the
Clinton administration engage fully in resolving it. The situation changed when
the conflict threatened the United States' relations with NATO allies. It also
changed when pressure from both public and political opponents grew to the
point when it might affect the results of the next election. That final push shifted
the United States into full engagement in the Bosnian conflict.
The way in which the European Union managed the Yugoslav crisis
proved to be a total disaster in the implementation of its Common Foreign and
Security Policy. It became obvious that Europe was still too divided to lead a
common policy. Their decision-making process was a continuous "pulling and
pushing" which swayed their policy from one extreme to another. This alienated
the parties in the conflict and Europe, as a mediator, lost its credibility. Did
Europe and the other parties involved in the conflict learn anything from this
crisis? Only time will tell.
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